By ALEXI DEMETRIADI
In October 2019, thanks to community pressure, Glebe received a ferry. Me-Mel, the small, 60-capacity mini-cat, was launched by Transport NSW as an ‘on-demand’ service, run by operator Transdev.
City Hub reported at the time that the NSW Government initiative was launched to cater to wharves not currently serviced by regular ferries, with its continuation to be assessed in mid-April 2020.
On-call from 7am, the ferry is ordered and tracked by an app or summoned at self-service kiosks located at the wharves. Its route takes it between Blackwattle Bay Park in Glebe, Pirrama Park in Pyrmont, Barangaroo Wharf in Cockle Bay, and Sydney Fish Market in Pyrmont.
With the mid-April deadline fast approaching and the service’s ‘moment of truth’, can Glebe residents expect the Me-Mel to continue?
In short, it looks positive – but the coronavirus outbreak had muddied the waters.
A Transport for NSW spokesperson told City Hub that it was still “assessing the operation” of the ferry service. “A decision regarding the service will be made prior to the scheduled end date of the trial in mid-April.”
MP calls for continuation and expansion
But with the end date rapidly approaching, the area’s MP, Jamie Parker, is calling for the service to be continued. Greens MP for Balmain, Parker was an instrumental figure in driving the on-demand ferry into service. He is hopeful that the service can continue once the trial finishes.
“This was a matter that was under active consideration before the pandemic – public transport use has absolutely plummeted since the virus,” Parker explained to City Hub. “I’m not exactly sure what the transport strategy is at the moment, but I can tell you that before coronavirus hit, NSW Transport was really seriously considering maintaining it.”
Parker explained that there is a possibility that the service’s trail may be extended with an amended route. “The whole idea behind this project was that it was a trial and with any trial you have to test options,” Parker said.
One of those options is to compliment the popular Blackwattle Bay wharf stop in Glebe with one adjacent in Rozelle Bay. “We’re particularly keen to open up the stop at Rozelle Bay, so we can make sure the service is used to its maximum capacity,” Parker said.
A wharf here would cater for the many commuters within the precinct. “It’s a very dense area, with a lot of people in employment, so it’s a perfect location,” said Parker. “It’s something we advocated for at the beginning – it took years of campaigning to convince them to put ferries here and we’ve always put forward Glebe and Rozelle Bay as the perfect locations.”
The service has been a motoring success, connecting people directly to the Sydney CBD by providing a fast link to Barangaroo.
“It’s been extremely well received by the community and people absolutely love it,” said Parker. “People were traditionally driving their cars or getting a bus, which was often very unpredictable in terms of its arrival and departure.”
Making Sydney sustainable
Parker’s support for the ferries derived from The Greens’ policy to marry the betterment of his constituency to improving the transport and sustainability of the city. “The key issue here is how we make our city a world-class public transport hub,” Parker said. “One of the things that has been incredibly under-utilised has been our harbour.”
Parker explained that the ferry has made a significant difference without reducing public transport patronage on other routes. “It hasn’t taken a huge chunk out of the people that used busses,” he said. “People that took cars are taking the ferry.”
Parker explained that people are driving a couple days of the week while taking the ferry on the other days. “It’s taking people off the roads, encouraging them to use public transport and its impact, if supported and extended, is transformational.”
The response from the community has been positive. Blackwattle Bay resident Anita Ferguson explained that she recently took a ferry to Barangaroo with her family. “The crew were lovely and helpful while the ferry was super cute and clean,” she said. “I will definitely go again once this current situation passes – I hope it stays.”
Residents in Annandale who catch the ferry believe a stop near Rozelle’s light rail station would boost traffic.
Wendy Porter lives in the ‘Paris’ end of Annandale and often catches the boat. “The ferry is by far the nicest way to travel – it’s very clean and staff are always terrific, very cheery and kind,” she said. “It’s so nice to chug along watching the bay go by especially in a warm day with all the doors open – there’s a real joy being out on the water.”
Porter agreed that a ferry stop in Rozelle Bay, closer to Annandale than the existing pickup at Blackwattle Bay wharf, would “be sensational!”
Update: Coronavirus puts Glebe on-demand ferry on hold
The Glebe On-Demand ferry has become the latest victim of the coronavirus pandemic with the trial put on indefinite hold after its conclusion on 13 April. Transport for NSW announced today that they have decided to extend the trial, however the service will be placed on hold and relaunched later in the year. As of yet, there is no fixed return date for the resumption of the service.
“The initial feedback and patronage from the last six months have been encouraging,” said a Transport for NSW spokesperson. “However, this is an opportunity to explore what other areas in the region may benefit from an On-Demand ferry and to ensure that when the service does resume, it is a great option for people travelling in Sydney.”
Transport for NSW said that they will now take some time to assess all elements of the On-Demand ferry with the aim to resume the service later this year with possible new routes around the Bays Precinct. While the apparent aim is to resume the service later in the year, no definite plans have of yet been announced.
City Hub’s previous reporting on the Glebe Ferry: