Sydney Ferries

Sydney Ferries

Sydney Ferries is a state owned corporation of the New South Wales Government providing commuter ferry services on Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River in Sydney, Australia.

Sydney Ferries describes itself as "at the heart of Sydney and its transport network." (AR 5)The network, stretching from Manly in the east to Parramatta in the west. Patronage is shared on an almost equal basis between commuters and tourists, with around 48% of total patronage commuter travel and 46% leisure travel.

The ferry's iconic status derives in part from Sydney's self-image as a harbour city. Despite being a relatively minor part of the city's public transport network, it plays an important part within the city's tourism industry. In recent years, the service has faced criticism that it is both too costly to taxpayers and poorly resourced for commuters.


Sydney Ferries started life as a private sector company. In 1861, the North Shore Ferry Company was formed operating a ferry service across Sydney Harbour. The company was restructured and the name was changed to the North Shore Ferry Company in 1878. In 1899, after a series of mergers, the company was renamed Sydney Ferries Limited. At one point, Sydney Ferries Limited was the largest operator of Ferries on the world. [cite web | title = Wheels and Keels
publisher = State Transit Authority – Community Relations Unit
month = February | year = 2001
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-05|format=PDF

In 1951 Sydney Ferries Limited was facing financial difficulties and on 1 July 1951 the company was acquired by the New South Wales Government.

Meanwhile, up until 1972 the Manly ferry service had been operated independently by the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company, a publicly listed company on the Sydney Stock Exchange. On 19 April 1972, the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company was acquired by champions Brambles Industries Limited. [cite web
title = Centenary of Federation Research – Companies in Australia from 1901
publisher = Australian Stock Exchange
month = May | year = 2001
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-05|format=PDF

Following a threat by Brambles to reduce the Manly ferry services, the NSW Government arranged for the Public Transport Commission to take over the service as from 1 December 1974. [

cite web
title = Heritage Database – Historical Notes - Baragoola (M.V.)
publisher = NSW Heritage Office
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-05
] The Public Transport Commission later became the Urban Transit Authority of New South Wales and then the State Transit Authority. In 2004 the Sydney Ferries Corporation was formed out of the State Transit Authority. After reconciliation in 2008, the Corporation was dropped from the official name of the organisation.


As of 2004, Sydney Ferries is a nominally independent corporation whose 'shareholders' are the treasurer Michael Costa and the finance minister John Watkins. Watkins is also the portfolio minister as Minister for Transport. The corporation's chief executive is Rear Admiral Geoff Smith. The chairman is Geoff Ashton.

The corporation's first two years saw a significant amount of change, with Suzanne Sinclair, Rear Admiral Chris Oxenbould and Rear Admiral Smith serving as chief executive for parts of 2006.

In 2005-06, the corporation ran a deficit of $48.7 million on revenues of $94.1 million. More than half of the corporation's revenue came from government subsidies. Although the corporation failed to meet its targets for fleet availability, its on-time running of 98.9% outperformed the CityRail network.

The performance of Sydney Ferries has been criticised by the State Opposition transport spokesman Gladys Berejiklian. In December 2006, Berejiklian stated that the fleet of 31 had experienced, on average, two breakdowns per vessel per month between July 2005 and September 2006. Berejiklian blamed a lack of maintenance funding. []


Sydney Ferries operates a 37-km network consisting of
*Manly ferry services, Sydney (light blue on map)
*Eastern Suburbs ferry services, Sydney (dark green)
*Taronga Zoo ferry services, Sydney (dark blue)
*Inner Harbour ferry services, Sydney (light green, red, orange and lilac)
*Parramatta River ferry services, Sydney (yellow)

Parry Inquiry

The 2003 Ministerial Inquiry into Sustainable Public Transport in New South Wales, known as the Parry Inquiry, was scathing in its assessment of the role and performance of the ferry network. Report author Tom Parry concluded that

It is hard to believe that taxpayers or the state are getting the best possible value from the large amounts of money being spent each year. This is not new; it has been a problem for many years facing governments from all sides of politics. There are better ways to deliver public transport ... We have a costly public ferry service that includes what is effectively a subsidised water taxi service for mainly middle to high income earners and tourists.
(pp. xiv-xv)

Parry recommended that Sydney Ferries be established as a separate state-owned corporation (this occurred in 2004) and that the regulatory framework for all ferry services in Sydney be reviewed. The metadata report listed a number of "poor service decisions" and "poor fleet decisions".

Many of his concerns centred on equity. "Sydney ferries are an important feature of the harbour," Parry wrote, "However, only a small proportion of the population directly benefits from these services." (p. 32)

Poor service decisions

Parry raised significant equity concerns about the ferry service. Almost 50% of the cost of a ferry journey is borne by taxpayers despite research revealing that the average personal income of full-fare paying passengers is $59,425—one-third higher than the average for rail and bus passengers. In any case, commuter use of ferries has been in decline for many years. Parry noted that

Some services such as the Parramatta RiverCat are used almost exclusively by tourists yet the service is priced as a regular public transport service rather than a premium service.(p. 32)

The report also noted that the Manly JetCat service was expensive and unreliable when the lack of demand for the service was taken into account.

Poor fleet decisions

Parry found that the diversity of the Sydney Ferries fleet was pushing up maintenance costs and compromising reliability. A 2003 study by Sinclair Knight Merz estimated that rationalising the fleet's seven classes could eventually yield cost savings of $4 million per year. (p. 55)



Sydney Ferries has been involved in numerous accidents leading to fatalities during its operation. The most recent event occurred at about 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday 28 March 2007 when the Sydney Ferries HarbourCat "Pam Burridge" collided with a private charter vessel. The death toll was four, including a fourteen year-old girl. The collision occurred beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The passengers on the private vessel were a group from a figure skating seminar at a local rink, who were on a sightseeing cruise of the harbour. Australian champion Sean Carlow was among the survivors of the accident. His mother and coach, former Australian Olympic competitor Liz Cain, had her leg amputated, while one of the dead was a skating judge who had returned from officiating at the 2007 World Figure Skating Championships the previous week. [ [,22049,21468552-5001021,00.html "Daily Telegraph" Teen feared among ferry dead 29 March 2007 accessed same day] ] [ [ Brisbane teen still missing - Queensland - BrisbaneTimes - ] ]

On 3 April 2007, Then Premier Morris Iemma appointed Bret Walker, a Senior Counsel, to undertake a special commission of inquiry into Sydney Ferries' operations, following the HarbourCat tragedy. [ [,22049,21496834-5001021,00.html Crash ferries face special inquiry | The Daily Telegraph ] ]

Two previous accidents had been recorded in 2007, in January one man was killed when a Sydney RiverCat collided with a dinghy, he later died in hospital. [ [ Sydney Ferries 'deeply regret' fatal accident. 14/01/2007. ABC News Online ] ] In March a Sydney Ferries vessel crashed into a whale-watching ship before hitting the Pyrmont Bridge in Darling Harbour. [ [,20867,21427718-5006784,00.html Ferry collides with cruise boat | The Australian ] ]


* Ministerial Inquiry into Sustainable Public Transport in New South Wales

ee also

* List of Australian ferries

External links

* [ Sydney Ferries homepage]
* [ 2003 Ministerial Inquiry into Sustainable Transport]
* [ 2007 Special Commission of Inquiry into Sydney Ferries]

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