"Mind Your Head" on Sydney's New River Ferries

Sydney ferries
Older Rivercat ferry at the Gasworks Bridge on the Parramatta River - photo by Martin (cc-by-2.0/Wikimedia Commons)

Published Aug 28, 2020 8:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

It would seem like a pretty simple proposition: Sydney, Australia needed new ferries for the Parramatta River route to replace older equipment as well as chartered vessels. But like many public transportation projects, it has been mired in problems and now commuters are going to find themselves minding their heads.

In 2017, the government of New South Wales (NSW) proudly announced due to the growth in the area they were going to be investing in new ferries for the route. They said there was nothing better than enjoying a commute along the water, but when the bids came in for the ferries it was decided they were too costly. The project was shelved at the end of 2018.

The project resurfaced in 2019 and this time a contract was awarded to an Australia company that subcontracted the construction of the new ferries to a company in Indonesia. Of course, political debate ensured about building the ferries overseas but the work proceeded.

This month the first of four new ferries arrived in Australia for final preparations and fitting out before going into service this later this year. A total of 10 new ferries are planned. Each has a capacity of 200 people, including 122 indoor seats, 18 seats on a lower level, and maybe best of all an open-air top deck with 10 seats to enjoy the views along the river.

Instead of excitement about the pending introduction of the new ferries, the media has been having a field day with the project. First, it was discovered that there was asbestos aboard causing lots of media coverage and union protests.The operator assured everyone it was confined and had been remediated by an independent asbestos removal contractor.

Now the media has found out there’s one more problem. The ferries are too tall and passengers cannot be on the observation deck when the ferries go under two bridges, Camellia Railway Bridge and Gasworks Bridge, along the route. A spokesperson for the transport company conceded in the Australian media that passengers would have to move to the lower deck in that area. However, they pointed out that a process is already in place to handle this situation.

The media and the opposition leaders are having fun highlighting the situation. One opposition leader told The Sydney Morning Herald that the situation was a “fiasco” that would require staff time to be checking the top deck and moving passengers away. It was suggested that someone will have the job of yelling “duck” as they approach the bridges. Cartoonists have also had some fun at the expense of the ferries and the transportation minister.

Some critics are now saying that the problem is that they did not design the ferries but instead bought a prepared off the shelf design. The ferry operator is responding saying that they were aware of the height restrictions but felt since it was only one small part of the route that people would enjoy the open-air opportunity for the majority of the ride.

Travel Weekly Australia in recounting the story reported that the NSW Transport Minister has been left a little perplexed thinking the new equipment was a good thing. The travel publication quoted him as saying “take a chill pill” for his critics' vocal condemnations of the ferries due to the height constraints.

The ferry operator is promising signage warning riders of the hazards and procedures to move people below deck between the two stops in the area of the bridges.  So, for anyone riding the new Sydney ferries on the river route, the new slogan might soon become “mind your head.”