The wait­ing: how Dain­tree Ferry drives peo­ple crazy

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS - Shane Ni­chols

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

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