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All upstream for new bay ferry

31 May 2016

All upstream for new bay ferry Image

By Sean Car

Since launching its eight-week trial period, Little Group chairman Paul Little’s Port Phillip Ferries venture has struggled to gain anywhere near the uptake it was expecting.

The new service launched with much fanfare on Thursday, May 12, with Lord Mayor Robert Doyle and a number of esteemed guests turning out to support Mr Little’s initiative.  However, the 400-seat vessel has since attracted disappointing numbers for its daily run between Wyndham Harbour and Docklands.

Port Phillip Ferries CEO Murray Rance admitted that, while numbers hadn’t been great during the week, he said the group had been very encouraged by higher numbers on weekends.

According to Mr Rance, numbers between Monday and Friday had been averaging “in the 20s”, while weekends had seen numbers peak above 50.

“The customer feedback during the week has been really positive,” Mr Rance said. “Commuters are telling us that it’s a really relaxing ride and a great way to start their day.”

Anecdotally, weekday passenger numbers ranged between 15 and seven in the fortnight preceding this edition of Docklands News.

Asked at the official launch whether he thought the initiative would be a success, the Lord Mayor said he was confident that people would embrace it as a viable transport option.

“I think so. They’ve got open days coming up and I think people will get down to have a look,” Cr Doyle said.  “The people of Melbourne will absolutely embrace this as a new form of transport in our beautiful city.”

However, while still in its very early days, it would appear the service faces some significant challenges in keeping the venture afloat, with issues remaining around berthing and ticket prices.

Mr Rance said the business was continuing to tweak its services in reaction to customer feedback and that the response from the corporate and tourism sectors had been “really positive”.

The ferry service will be moving its berthing location from Merchant St to Hortus cafe in the next few weeks in order to connect passengers directly to the free tram service along Harbour Esplanade.

During the trial, tickets cost $13 one-way and $20 return and it’s expected that this will rise to $25 once the trial concludes.

Mr Little told Docklands News he didn’t think the service was charging too much.  

“It’s not what we’ve been told,” he said. “I think if you were to get a one way rail ticket from Geelong to Melbourne and return that’s about $25 so I think we’re right on the money in that respect.”

“I’ll make the point we’re not trying to compete with rail in terms of price. That’s not what we’re about,” Mr Little said.

Travelling time has also been a subject of debate with the ferry taking an average 75 minutes to complete the journey.

Cr Doyle said he would work towards “relaxing” the lower Yarra speed limits.

“Five knots is too slow as you come up the river. It adds just a little too much to the journey,” he said.

Mr Rance told Docklands News that the group had met with the Port of Melbourne Authority recently to work through the process of obtaining an approval to travel at higher speeds.

He said the ferry would eventually conduct a wave, wake and safety assessment and was optimistic that the service would eventually be able to travel at speeds ranging between 10 and 15 knots.

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