September 7th 2006
A letter about the ferries
This week magnetictimes.com received the following letter from Rosemary Crake & Robert Marshall regarding Sunferries' service. A copy has been sent to the Minister for Transport Mr Paul Lucas as well as candidates in the current election.
Re: Magnetic Island passenger ferry service - safety, service and cost issues
Dear Mr Lucas,
I would like to bring some issues to your attention which I believe are relevant to your consideration of Sunferries' proposed fare increases and applications by other companies to provide a passenger service.
1.The current service has significant safety issues on busy ferries, particularly the 7-50 am (Magnetic Island) and 3-45 pm (Townsville) services which are taken by school-children. These services, and often the 5-30pm (Townsville) service, are over-crowded. Adult passengers are standing while concession fare school-children sit.
Other children / adolescents who don't get a seat sit in groups, with their bags, in walkways. This is understandable as there is nowhere else for them to go and where handrails are provided, they are only accessible to taller people (which excludes many adults as well). In case of emergency, this situation could cause major problems.
The number of people catching the 7-50 am ferry has also recently been increased because tourists going on Sunferries' reef tour must generally now go into Townsville to catch the reef ferry (it used to pick them up at the island on the way to the reef).
Some seats in the ferry are unusable because they are broken or are wet from leaking air-conditioning.
The island population is also increasing. Luggage check-in is not always available and backpackers generally bring their luggage on board with them (they are not discouraged from this). Safe areas to stow luggage and prams inside the ferries are very limited - therefore luggage and prams are often placed in walkways/exit paths.
Whilst this is generally not a problem, it is a safety issue in case of emergency or of passengers being tripped up.
It is also inappropriate safety and service-wise for any passenger to have to stand throughout the journey - a 25-30 minute journey by boat in often bumpy conditions is very different from a typical bus ride.
2.Ferries are often late due to inefficient boarding and luggage handling arrangements. When ferries break down or are running poorly, no courtesy of explanation or information is shown eg recently the old ferry appeared to be running on only one motor. Our journey was longer and slower than usual but no announcement was made about this).
3.Recently, two (I believe) ferries broke down so the Reef tour ferry was being used. I picked up two interstate visitors on Monday 28 August. One is elderly and the other has a back injury. I thought we would manage by using the baggage check-in service. However, on the busy noon ferry, there was no baggage service. All passengers (including older and more frail individuals and those with walking sticks) were required to walk - and take their luggage - up stairs to get onto the ferry (no ramp). They then had to ascend (with luggage) very steep internal stairs to later disembark down a further set of steps.
An Island resident advised me that she was distressed last week to see another resident who has an injured ankle and is in a wheelchair, made to leave the wheelchair and literally crawl onto the ferry without assistance (the other resident was further back in the queue and could not get to her). That is disgusting in terms of safety, dignity and service.
4.The ferries are very well patronised and very poorly maintained so I find it hard to believe Sunferries can justify any cost increases. Increasing numbers of residents and construction workers must be adding to Sunferries' income. There are regular break-downs, seats are dirty and many are broken; the air-conditioning only works on cold days (if at all) and continually drips or pours water on hapless passengers. In warmer months, it is almost impossible to arrive at work looking professional. The new(ish) ferries in the Whitsundays are already cheaper than the Magnetic Island service for people who work on the islands and commute regularly. They are also clean and in good working order.
5.If Sunferries will not provide extra services to cope with peak hour demands (eg an extra ferry between 7-30am and 8-30am or a specific "school ferry" , as I believe there used to be; plus an extra ferry in the afternoon, perhaps at 4-30 or 4-40 - a "return" from the extra ferry they recently put on for the construction workers on the island; or perhaps 6-30), then I believe other companies should be able to offer an extra service, with comparable multi-use tickets, during peak hours and peak season. This is important for both residents and tourists.
6.Apart from safety concerns, I think every adult who has to stand while concession fare youth sit, should be given a refund on their ticket.
7.I am led to believe that increased fares have been negotiated but implementation is being held back until after the election - this gives a clear message as to how Island residents should vote.
8.Some of the seats for passengers waiting outside the Townsville terminal building were removed during renovations and have not been replaced. Available seating is inadequate generally, but when the terminal is closed in the evening, it becomes more of a problem.
I understand that Sunferries has to offer the less lucrative night services as part of their contract, so it is not fair to have general competition with companies who don't have to offer those services. However, the monopoly Sunferries has is clearly being abused and safety is suffering.
Magnetic Island is an important tourist attraction which brings significant amounts of money to Townsville. The current state of the ferry "service" is likely to actively discourage tourists who are not young back-packers from coming to or returning to the Island and the area.
People who have luggage or who have mobility issues must also be catered for with safety and dignity. It is important to remember that people travelling between Townsville and Magnetic Island do not have the alternative options that people travelling on the mainland do - ie they can't opt for a taxi or use their own transport. There are many retired and semi-retired people with mobility and sight problems who live on Magnetic for a 3-4 month period each year to escape the
southern winters. Also many permanent residents have elderly relatives and other visitors, including those with young children in prams etc needing to use the ferries.
Island residents are important to the economy in terms of rates to fund infrastructure and supporting Island businesses during off-peak periods. However, the difficulties with transport and lack of respectful treatment are a significant source of discouragement for taxpayers employed on the mainland to live there. Similar issues apply to retired and older residents and those with very young children.
I know that Sunferries is promising new ferries for Christmas. However, it is rare for new boats to be delivered on time and there still has to be a service in the meantime.
I would appreciate your consideration and further exploration of the above. I believe consultation with Island residents and tourists would provide you with many more examples and concerns, along with an idea of the magnitude of the issues. A petition can be organised if necessary.
Rosemary Crake & Robert Marshall
CC: Jessica Weber, Liberal Candidate; Rosemary Menkens, National Party Member; Mike Reynolds, Labour Party Member; Lawrence Springborg, Leader of the Coalition, magnetictimes.com
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