LET­TER TO COUN­CIL BY DAIN­TREE TOUR OP­ER­A­TORS

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - NEWS -

Dear Coun­cil­lors

We would like to sup­port com­ments by Lawrence Ma­son in an email to you the DSC ear­lier. Ferry Queues & the Vis­i­tor Ex­pe­ri­ence We are daily get­ting re­ports from our cus­tomers about ferry queue times of up to an hour and a half, and this has been oc­cur­ring since the start of the peak sea­son in April, but par­tic­u­larly since the be­gin­ning of July.

In some in­stances, cus­tomers are fail­ing to ar­rive in time to par­tic­i­pate in our 2pm tours – and we are just one of many op­er­a­tors who have been neg­a­tively af­fected by this. Not only are we miss­ing out on pay­ing cus­tomers, but those visi­tors are hav­ing a neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

In some cases it is ob­vi­ous peo­ple are not even both­er­ing to wait in the queue but are do­ing the U-turn be­fore the ferry, as high­lighted by Shane Ni­chols in his col­umn in the Gazette this week. And once visi­tors make their re­turn jour­ney, they have to wait again – by way of ex­am­ple, only three days ago, while head­ing north­wards after 6pm, we wit­nessed three full ferry loads, and when we got off the ferry at 6:22pm, there were still 38 ve­hi­cles queue­ing to head south.

It is shame­ful that there are no ef­fec­tive strate­gies be­ing de­vel­oped by DSC to cor­rect this prob­lem at the Ferry which demon­stra­bly has been on­go­ing for 15 years (or more).

Ac­tion re­quired: DSC needs to ac­tively en­gage with the Dain­tree Coast com­mu­nity as a mat­ter of ur­gency to de­velop such strate­gies well prior to the end of the cur­rent ferry con­tract pe­riod in or­der for ap­pro­pri­ate con­tract pro­vi­sions to be in­cluded in the new ten­der doc­u­men­ta­tion, as well as find­ing in­terim mea­sures to al­le­vi­ate the bot­tle­neck. Queue­ing & Pri­or­ity Lanes The south­side pri­or­ity lane is ef­fec­tively su­per­flu­ous dur­ing even re­motely busy times un­less one breaks the law by cross­ing dou­ble white lines. While there has been sig­nif­i­cant amounts spent on hard­stand ar­eas for park­ing for croc­o­dile tour cus­tomers and boat­ies, there has been lit­tle pro­vi­sion to im­prove the func­tion­al­ity of the ferry queue­ing lanes in the past cou­ple of years de­spite the re­gion ex­pe­ri­enc­ing its best tourist sea­sons in 2016-17 for more than 10 years. Why has more em­pha­sis has not been made on the ferry lanes?

It is ironic that the Gate­way Plan has the vi­sion “The Gate­way en­hances the pros­per­ity of the Dain­tree area by in­spir­ing visi­tors to take more time to get to know the val­ues and sto­ries of this out­stand­ing nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, its tra­di­tional own­ers and the res­i­dent com­mu­ni­ties”, and talks about in­creas­ing “eco­nomic ben­e­fit from visi­ta­tion for lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and busi­nesses”, and “sus­tain­abil­ity”…

All the me­tres of con­crete have done lit­tle to im­prove the pros­per­ity, ben­e­fit, and sus­tain­abil­ity of the busi­nesses north of the River, nor has it in­spired visi­tors by giv­ing them more time north of the Dain­tree.

And there is scant re­gard to vi­able op­tions for traf­fic lanes on the north­side in cur­rent plans.

We un­der­stand there was a re­view of the Gate­way Plan in April/May 2016, how­ever the Plan cur­rently on DSC’s

web­site is the Plan pub­lished in 2011.

We are un­sure as to what ben­e­fit public submissions had on the Plan, in­clud­ing Dain­tree Mar­ket­ing Co­op­er­a­tive’s sub­mis­sion which specif­i­cally ad­dressed ferry queue­ing is­sues,

Ac­tion re­quired: The Dain­tree Gate­way Plan needs to be fur­ther re­viewed as a mat­ter of ur­gency as the ex­ist­ing Plan and Dain­tree Gate­way Master­plan Op­tions Re­port both place great em­pha­sis on the amenity and park­ing and none on the func­tion­al­ity of ferry op­er­a­tions and associ­ated in­fra­struc­ture. Ferry Tick­et­ing Is­sues which are on­go­ing, and mea­sures to rec­tify them, in­clude:

Tick­et­ing booths are too close to the ferry for peak sea­son op­er­a­tions – peak sea­son booths must be at least 24 ve­hi­cles queue­ing length (a full ferry load) away from the ferry load­ing ramp in or­der to avoid tick­et­ing de­lay­ing ferry load­ing.

Booth op­er­at­ing hours aren’t recog­nis­ing peak hour traf­fic – pro­vi­sion should be made for flex­i­bil­ity in booth hours so that if there is, say, 12 ve­hi­cles or more in the queue then the booth should re­main open later (the typ­i­cal cross­ing time is about 3.5 min­utes, so if each on­ferry trans­ac­tion takes 20 sec­onds on av­er­age (in­clud­ing traf­fic con­troller walk­ing from one ve­hi­cle to the next), that is equal to 4 min­utes – ie it is easy to see how on-board transactions can slow the cross­ing time down.

There is no north­side booth, so all tick­et­ing (check­ing and pay­ments) are con­ducted on the ferry – it would be ex­tremely sim­ple for the op­er­a­tor to place one of its staff on the north­side dur­ing peak hours to ac­tu­ally check tick­ets, and take pay­ments if nec­es­sary, for the south­bound traf­fic while they are in the queue (rather than rid­ing the ferry), com­pletely re­mov­ing this re­quire­ment dur­ing the ferry cross­ing. By con­trast, a full ferry of 24 ve­hi­cles could take more than 6 min­utes (24 x 15 sec­onds = 300 sec­onds/6 min­utes – the time per ve­hi­cle be­ing less on ba­sis of most hav­ing re­turn fares) – a sim­ple ‘time and mo­tion’ anal­y­sis would iden­tify the most ef­fec­tive use of staff for peak pe­ri­ods. This staff mem­ber could still help load but get off as the ferry fills the last spots to per­form tick­et­ing du­ties on dry land.

Cash only pay­ments on the ferry is un­nec­es­sary and time-con­sum­ing – ex­ist­ing tech­nol­ogy could be read­ily im­ple­mented to pro­vide for cash­less pay­ments and im­prove speed of tick­et­ing on the ferry out­side of nor­mal busi­ness hours.

On­line tick­et­ing is again a rel­a­tively sim­ple op­tion, which would in fact be more cost-ef­fec­tive than the cur­rent man­ual process, and which could be ac­cessed by busi­ness op­er­a­tors to help book their cus­tomers through.

Self-serve ticket ma­chines could be an­other op­tion. Gen­eral Ferry Op­er­a­tions The ferry op­er­a­tion can be speeded up by im­ple­ment­ing some of the sim­ple mea­sures al­ready iden­ti­fied. This will im­prove the vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence by re­duc­ing de­lays. Our ob­ser­va­tions are that a typ­i­cal, un­re­strained cross­ing (ie no de­lays with tick­et­ing) with a full load con­sists of the fol­low­ing rough time­lines: Load­ing – 4.5 min­utes Cross­ing – 3.5 min­utes Un­load­ing – 3 min­utes To­tal – 11 min­utes This equates to ap­prox­i­mately 5 trips (3 one way, 2 the other) each hour if peaks are in both di­rec­tions – ar­guably this does not hap­pen a lot in the nor­mal course of a day, so it is con­ceiv­able 3 re­turn trips per hour is achiev­able, that is 72 ve­hi­cles in one di­rec­tion – which is not many. As ve­hi­cles ar­riv­ing at the queue each hour in­crease above this fig­ure, then queue­ing will in­evitably oc­cur. Once a back­log oc­curs, it can take quite lit­er­ally hours to clear this back­log.

If 72 ve­hi­cles per hour is the max­i­mum ca­pac­ity based on cur­rent op­er­a­tional time­lines, then to avoid grow­ing de­lays, there must be other op­tions looked at, such as:

Re­duc­ing load­ing times – with the cur­rent ferry con­fig­u­ra­tion and staffing lev­els (2-3 on board), it is hard to see how load­ing times can be re­duced with­out com­pro­mis­ing safety; a new larger ferry could achieve faster load­ing times (eg dual lane ramps), or sim­ply more ve­hi­cles per cross­ing

Re­duc­ing un­load­ing times – with the cur­rent ferry con­fig­u­ra­tion and staffing lev­els (2-3 on board), it is hard to see how un­load­ing times can be re­duced sig­nif­i­cantly with­out com­pro­mis­ing safety; ditto com­ments re new ferry with two lane ramps etc

A sec­ond ferry has been mooted how­ever DSC has not (as far as we can tell) in­ves­ti­gated this op­tion fully; with the new ferry con­tract this must be put on the agenda as an op­tion, which would also pro­vide con­tin­gency for pos­si­ble long-term out­ages.

Ve­hi­cle op­er­a­tion – Ad­di­tional safety mea­sures have been put in place, in­clud­ing a chained bar­rier, so it would seem rea­son­able that with the risk re­moved of be­ing able to drive off the ferry, then ve­hi­cles could ac­tu­ally be al­lowed to be left run­ning, and keep air­con on. DSC should re­view this as an op­tion prior to the next wet sea­son. Ten­der Process A new ten­der process will come upon us be­fore we know it, and DSC must en­gage with the com­mu­nity well in ad­vance of this process be­ing fi­nalised. The process must also al­low for plenty of time for a new con­tract to be im­ple­mented, which might in­clude the pro­vi­sion for a new ferry to be built. As was ev­i­denced last time round, over 10 years ago, this process can ‘get away’, and leave DSC in a po­si­tion of hav­ing no room to ne­go­ti­ate and end up spend­ing sig­nif­i­cant amounts to bridge the gap.

We would also like to point out that at the last Dain­tree Fo­rum, TWO years ago (23 July 2015), the Mayor ver­bally ad­vised that the ferry con­tract was, at the time, up for re­newal; how­ever, be­fore any fur­ther di­a­logue could oc­cur, Coun­cil had con­sid­ered an ex­ten­sion of the ex­ist­ing con­tract and no fur­ther con­sul­ta­tion was able to oc­cur to en­sure the com­mu­nity got a bet­ter out­come. DSC must en­sure this sit­u­a­tion does not hap­pen again. We, north of the River, are given short shrift over some­thing which is our life­line to the rest of the world and ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal to our well­be­ing.

Ac­tion re­quired: We re­quest that Coun­cil­lors in­sist that a full and trans­par­ent con­sul­ta­tion process is af­forded to our com­mu­nity by Coun­cil of­fi­cers well in ad­vance of the 2021 dead­line. Dain­tree Ferry Re­serve We draw Coun­cil­lors’ at­ten­tion to the re­cently adopted change (at its meet­ing on 26 April 2017) to the Dain­tree Ferry Rev­enue Gen­eral Pol­icy. Coun­cil­lors would be fa­mil­iar with the Scope of the Pol­icy, and we quote:

“The rev­enue ob­tained from ferry op­er­a­tions will be used to fund op­er­a­tional costs and on­go­ing cap­i­tal works associ­ated with the pro­vi­sion of ferry ser­vices on the Dain­tree River.”

It is disin­gen­u­ous of Coun­cil to by­pass this Scope by then chang­ing the gen­eral word­ing of the Pol­icy to state . . . “The max­i­mum level of funds con­strained in this re­serve will be four mil­lion dol­lars. At the end of each fi­nan­cial year the re­quired trans­fers, to and from, the re­serve will be made.”

Such ac­tion has shown ab­so­lute con­tempt of the Dain­tree Coast com­mu­nity and the pres­sures which we face. The re­port on which Coun­cil of­fi­cers based their rec­om­men­da­tion to “con­strain” the Ferry Fund is, in our hum­ble opin­ion, flawed to the ex­tent that it does not take into ac­count the is­sues above and the des­per­ate need to rec­tify them. It is also fun­da­men­tally flawed in that there is no ra­tio­nale for cap­ping at a dol­lar amount in­def­i­nitely.

We would wel­come the op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss all of these mat­ters di­rectly, and in per­son, at Cape Tribu­la­tion, with all Coun­cil­lors. I am cer­tain that if you com­mit­ted to vis­it­ing us that there would be many other res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers who would like to meet with you too, and we would be happy to co­or­di­nate this.

A sur­vey of visi­tors found they were happy to pay the fare if it meant money went back to the area

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