September 8th 2006
Sunferries responds to critics
Following a letter of complaint about Sunferries' safety, service and cost issues, "A letter about the ferries" on September 7 which has also been sent to the Minister for Transport and candidates for tomorrow's election, Sunferries General Manager, Mr Mark McKeon, has made a feisty response.
Mark McKeon writes:
I have looked over the complaints and a great deal of it does not make any sense. At no stage did the authors of this letter come to me, write or ring to let us know there were any issues. They have instead hidden behind a vexatious letter sent directly to the minister.
While it is easy to single out events to make it sound terrible, on the whole our service runs to the schedule, and as close to the time as we can.
I acknowledge we are not 100% all the time but our crews do work as hard as they can to achieve our services.
I will investigate any issues raised regarding the loading of a person with a broken foot but offer the following observations:
I have adjusted a number of extra services to help with what we term as a hot spot. When possible the new "1530" service takes as many people that are standing ready to go to the island. (Including the kids) The next service is 15:45. The 1530 becomes the 16:10 off then island for all to use but by in large we hope most of the workers get onto it.
We do try and match the ferry to the service (in other words Spirit on 1530 that can carry 400) however due to planned maintenance etc this is not always possible.
We do not overload, it is illegal. The current seating configurations are not the best and when we get 200 on sunbird for example it does appear to be busy. Sunbird is licensed for 300. It is interesting to note that over an average Month, 40% of our numbers is less than 50 pax, while only 5% represent over 200 pax. Overloading is simply not occurring
About 18 Months ago, we did run a separate service for the kids however one of your island residents complained to the minister that it was discrimitory against adults so it was ceased (sometimes we can not win)
Our ferries are professionally cleaned every night, but once the workers have travelled back from the Island, it can get a bit second hand. When the new ferries arrive, I am going to enact a dress code about cleanliness (just so I can answer more complaints to you!!!) I am much exited about the new ferries I can tell you.
It is important to note that I made a conscious decision not to raise fares for a full 12 Months. I lived by this commitment despite loosing many thousands of dollars due to fuel increases (AND BELIEVE ME IT HURT)
In finishing, many issues regarding mobility etc will be addressed when the terminal rebuild is complete and the new ferries are here (and yes we are planning arrival by Xmas).
I have just received a letter from the coordinator of Magnetic Island Community Care. She has offered some really good suggestions that we will explore but also includes "thanks for a great service"
Following, we have reproduced most of the letter and Mark McKeon's particular responses to points raised by the letter writers, Rosemary Crake & Robert Marshall. Rosemary and Robert's letter comments are preceded by "RR" while Mark Mckeon's responses are in italics and preceded by "MM". Ed.
RR: 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.
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.
MM: Reef Cat has been picking up passengers from the Island for over a Month now. Clearly the Author is not aware of this. The ferries are never overloaded.
RR: 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.
MM: Luggage check in is always available. Late running passengers tend to move down the gangways with their luggage. Mums and dad with prams will always be allowed onto the ferry. Some of our passengers prefer to keep their goods with them.
RR: 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.
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).
MM: No answer here - what were the weather conditions? The ferries never run on one engine, may have just been a bad day for travel. What break downs?? Please provide the day, date and times as I am unaware.
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 12-00 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.
MM: Reef Cat was used as the important thing is to keep the service going but I am unaware of luggage issues. I will question operations.
RR: 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.
MM: This resident advice is third hand information. Our crews always assist (we are required by law) but I will ask operations to investigate.
RR: 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.
MM: Not sure where this information came from. Travel in the Whitsunday's is expensive $76.00 return to Hamilton Island. What many resident fail to understand is that we offer very heavy discount tickets for bulk purchase (i.e. Flexi $76.00) meaning people can travel for $7.60 or $15.20 return. A walk up purchase is $25.00 so locals are able to grab a 40% discount. So while numbers may be up, yield actually comes down Tell me where on the Island there is an offer of 40% discount for the residents.
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 4.30pm or 4.40pm 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.
MM: We do provide extra services and there are simply no overloading situations at the present moment. We have added extra services to the service already in the afternoon (15:30 and 16:10) and run back ups if required. About two years ago Sunferries did run a sperate service for school kids however an island resident complained that it was discrimination against adults so the service was ceased (sometime you can not win)
RR: 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.
MM: What, kids are paying their legal fare and are entitled to a seat. (Manners and morals are a different matter)
RR: 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.
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.
MM: We are still going through the rebuild so patience is required.
RR: 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.
MM: What do they mean "abused"?? And, no, safety is not being compromised.
RR: 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.
MM: Nonsense, How? Interestingly we never receive complaints from non residents. This includes the many thousand of local who do the day trip, surf life savers for their patrols, medical staff, police, youth travelling to full moons (less the occasional drug bust) etc.
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