LETTER TO COUNCIL BY DAINTREE TOUR OPERATORS
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