Harbour City Ferries, a partnership between Veolia Transdev and Transfield Services, has operated Sydney Ferries under the NSW Government’s franchise model since 28 July 2012.
The NSW Government retains ownership of the vessels and Balmain Shipyard maintenance facility, and control over the fare structure, routes and timetables through its service contract with Harbour City Ferries.
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Sydney Ferries provides a unique public transport service to the people of Sydney. For residents living adjacent to Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River, ferry travel is the most practical way of commuting to Sydney’s Central Business District. Ferry services also enable all Sydney residents and visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of Sydney Harbour and spectacular destinations such as:
- Double Bay
- Taronga Zoo
- Darling Harbour
- Cockatoo Island
Sydney Ferries has a long and proud history in Sydney and patronage continues to grow each year. In 2011-12, 173,329 ferry services were scheduled, carrying 14.7 million passengers. Circular Quay is the hub of the network, providing access to 37 other wharves ranging from Manly at the northern end of Sydney Harbour, through to Eastern and Lower North Shore suburbs, suburbs adjacent to the Parramatta River, the Balmain peninsula and Darling Harbour.
Sydney Ferries' fleet consists of 28 vessels (all of which are wheelchair accessible), which travel around 1.3 million kilometres per year. The fleet is divided into six vessel classes:
- Freshwater Class (4 vessels)
- Lady Class (2 vessels)
- First Fleet Class (9 vessels)
- RiverCats (7 vessels)
- HarbourCats (2 vessels)
- SuperCats (4 vessels)
Sydney Ferries can trace its roots as far back as the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove where in 1789, the first ferry service was established from the Cove to the farming settlement of Parramatta.
The first ferry, officially named the Rose Hill Packet (otherwise known as 'The Lump'), was crafted by convicts and powered by sails and oars. Parramatta was the furthest navigable point inland and trips typically took up to a week to complete. As time progressed, a series of rowboat ferrymen set up small operations to transport people from either side of Sydney Harbour.
In 1861, Sydney welcomed the establishment of the North Shore Ferry Company, which operated the very first commercial ferry service across Sydney Harbour. Less than 1,000 people at the time were residing on the northern shores of Sydney Harbour.
The North Shore Ferry Company underwent an enormous restructure in 1878 and, as a result, was renamed the North Shore Steam Ferry Company. The North Shore Ferry Company was revolutionary for its time and, by ordering the first double-ended propeller-driven ferry in the world to be built, was recognised for its progressive approach.
The decision set a design benchmark and the basic original design concept was retained and applied to today's Lady Class ferries. After a string of mergers, most of the ferry services were integrated into a new organisation called Sydney Ferries Limited in 1899.
Sydney Ferries Limited became the world's largest ferry operator shortly after the Sydney Harbour Bridge opened on 19 March 1932. Unfortunately, the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge saw ferry travel drop from 30 million passengers a year to 13 million passengers a year.
With the private proprietors facing financial ruin, the NSW Government intervened and agreed to take over Sydney Ferries Limited in 1951 to keep the Aussie icon afloat.
In an effort to boost revenue, the Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company introduced hydrofoils in 1965 to provide an express service to Manly, but they proved to be mechanically unreliable and were substituted with JetCats in the early 1990's.
The Sydney Ferries fleet had gradually transformed and became extremely versatile in its ability to battle a variety of different elements, from choppy seas and heavy swells between Sydney Heads to the calm waters of the Parramatta River.
Sydney Ferries added two new RiverCat vessels to its fleet in 1992 and launched a RiverCat service from Circular Quay to Parramatta in the same year. This new service experienced unrivalled success and added over one million passengers to Sydney Ferries' figures that year.
The following year saw another four RiverCats joining the fleet; the addition of the Nicole Livingstone in 1995 completed the fleet that services the Parramatta River to this day.
In 2009 Sydney Ferries introduced the River Express service as well as scheduled services to Cockatoo Island. 2009 also saw the cessation of the Manly JetCat service.
Sydney Ferries participates in an annual race every year on Australia Day on Sydney Harbour called the ‘Ferrython’. Here are some fast facts about Sydney’s favourite race:
- The annual Ferrython has been held for over 30 years, in conjunction with the Sydney Festival.
- The Ferrython was originally inspired by the paddle steam Riverboat races on the Mississippi River.
- The ferries race from Circular Quay to Shark Island before crossing the finish line under the Harbour Bridge
- The original Sydney Ferry race was a little longer, travelling around Cockatoo Island and back.
- Each ferry is dressed up for the race and packed with lucky passengers invited or balloted by race sponsors
- Sydney Ferries gifts four of the most race-worthy vessels to compete each year
- The race raises money for the Sydney Festival and Variety Club
- The race was first won by the Lady Woodward with other past winners including the Lady Cutler, the Lady Street, the Kerrabee, the Sirius, the Alexander and the Charlotte.
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