The waiting: how Daintree Ferry drives people crazy
PROMINENT tourism operators have joined locals in the Daintree calling for action to solve the horrendous wait times at the ferry crossing.
One operator, Sheena Walshaw, managing director at Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours at Cape Tribulation, called the situation “shameful”.
And once more, Daintree residents are becoming vocal over the queues at the ferry crossing which makes life difficult when trying to carry out such every day things as going to work and taking kids to Mossman for appointments.
North of the Daintree has been restive for years over the ferry’s capacity in peak times, but lately the perennial issues have stepped up a notch as locals question the application of money raised by the ferry ticket prices.
Talk of a second ferry has been rising.
“The ferry is an iconic part of the Daintree experience, and a real opportunity to prepare and excite the visitor for an untamed world that lies beyond,” Ms Walshaw told the Gazette.
“But right now it frustrates more than it facilitates and that’s shameful.
“Undoubtedly the ferry queues affect businesses north of the Daintree River – some impacts are immediate and some will be more long term.
“Anecdotally we hear of visitors simply turning around and heading back south because understandably they don’t want to queue for an hour or more, but the negative impacts go way beyond that.
“It’s such a terrible welcome to the region to be forced to sit in your vehicle wasting your day with no virtual queuing system; no way to book your place on the ferry and go on a cruise or visit a local attraction while you wait; and no food or drink options.
“That negative ordeal, and the same on the way back at the end of the day, severely impacts the whole Daintree experience.”
Ms Walshaw said the lack of mobile phone coverage meant it is hard to contact waitlisted guests and to re-sell seats for no-shows, and “equally hard to take the money from a family of five who’ve just spent four hours getting to Cape Trib only to miss their tour by half an hour!
“I see improved operation of the ferry as critical for the ongoing sustainability of businesses in the Daintree,” she said.
“Our businesses are already highly seasonal, so we need to be able to capitalise on peak seasons with efficient travel solutions for our visitors; and we need those visitors to tell the world their experience was world class.
“Not only would I like to see a ticketing solution that allows bookable travel and potential advantages for visitors that bring an economic benefit to the region (ie those who have booked accommodation or tours) but I would also like to see incentives for travel outside peak hours so that we can maximise visitation throughout the day which would benefit everyone.
Maf Burke of Tony’s Tropical Tours said the ferry crossing was “absolutely” a problem every day.
As well as the difficulties for tourism operators – guests sometimes complain the tour felt rushed – she says there is a concern for the ecological health of the Daintree due to too many self-drive visitors piloting cars with only two occupants.
“I think we need a regulation that if there are only a couple of people in a car you’re not to cross the river in busy times – or even cross the river at all.
“During the season you’ve got a mile of cars and they’ve got two or three people in them.
It’s the impact on the environment – that’s our biggest concern.”
The queues were a huge, huge problem, she said, because the buses were all returning at the same time, and the wait time on the northern side can be an hour – as it is on the way up.
“I don’t know whether it’s local government or state government, but someone should step in.”
Perhaps special transit lines with specific conditions, such as used in heavy urban areas, may be a benefit to traffic flow.
At the end of August it is especially bad because of all the caravan users coming back from the Cape as well.
Ms Burke wasn’t sure whether a second ferry was the solution. “I honestly think we need a bigger picture approach,” she said.
“Let’s stop these self-drivers from adding to the problem.”
A vocal critic of Douglas Shire Council’s dealing with Daintree issues, Rob Lapaer, told the Gazette “a study on options for the ferry crossing commissioned by DSC in 2004 concluded there was a socio-impact and a detrimental impact on visitor experience and a solution was needed.
“The study concluded that after [land] buyback and with modest tourism growth a second ferry would be required by 2011 – that is six years ago.
“The recommendations of this study appear to have gone where every other Daintree related study has gone, in the world’s biggest filing cabinet.”
The ferry is an iconic part of the Daintree experience . . . but right now it frustrates more than it facilitates and that’s shameful
Sheena Walshaw, Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours
People in the Daintree are becoming increasingly annoyed at the way the council manages the ferry.
They raise the price of the ferry every year while it already makes a profit, they are now usisng the profits to fund the “record works program” that DSC so proudly announced in the last budget, and they refuse to follow up the recommendations of their own 2004 study that recommended a second ferry to reduce waiting times.
For years the Daintree residents have asked for the unused millions in the ferry fund to be used for some much needed infrastructure in their area but were always told the money in the ferry reserve can strictly only be used for expenses related directly to the ferry.
Amounts of $450k to $600k were put in this reserve every year and it was meant to reach well over $4 million in this financial year, but suddenly it has stabilised at $4 million and that is where it is meant to stay for the next few years.
When questions started being asked on where the ferry profits are going now it was discovered that this was now going in to consolidated revenue.
The explanation was – if you put the ferry profits in the ferry reserve then you can’t use them for anything else than the ferry, but if you don’t put the profits in the ferry reserve but somewhere else then you can use them for what ever you want.
So this way the profits made on limiting traffic to North Douglas can subsidise infrastructure in South Douglas.
Still, when you read the ferry policy it is a bit ambiguous. They have now decided the reserve should not contain more than $4m but it still says any revenue generated by the ferry must be used for the ferry.
This ferry is not the way it is by accident but is a designated traffic limiter in the FNQ Regional Plan and DSC planning scheme, and with the high price and the long queues it has a detrimental impact on the economy in the Daintree, thanks to a certain percentage of people not bothering to come across because they don’t want to pay the high price or have already heard about the queues up to two hours each side, or people missing the tours they have booked after waiting in the queues.
Many tourists who would normally have had a good day still leave with a negative feeling from all the time spent waiting in the queues.
The news spreads and people who work in tourism in Cairns and Port Douglas already tell tourists not to bother going to the Daintree because the queues will be too long so these people won’t even go.
Because this traffic limiter is costing the North Douglas economy money it is only fair and logical that if this ferry makes a profit then that money belongs to those who feel the economic consequences of it. This money belongs in North Douglas and not in South Douglas.
Of course the ferry should not even be making a profit anyway.
Why is the ferry the only piece of infrastructure in the shire with a user pays system?
The road in to Port Douglas, the bridge in to Daintree Village, they all cost money to maintain, just imagine if there was a toll gate for every piece of infrastructure to pay for maintenance and operating costs, travel would be very slow and costly.
A study of cable ferry prices in Australia shows what a joke the $27 return fare at the Daintree river ferry is – there is only one other ferry that charges $10, one that charges $6.60, one that charges $3.70 and all others are free.
Only one ferry is more expensive – the Jardine River near the top of Cape York but $10 million has been allocated by federal government for a bridge to be built there. Rob Lapaer, Daintree
It’s not unusual for ferry customers to spend more than hour on each side of the river