Magnetic Island North Queensland
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May 20th 2011
Ferry timetable changes cause mixed reaction

A Sunferries vessel enters Nelly Bay Harbour On Monday morning the Sunferries' timetable will change and Magnetic Island residents and visitors who are not aware or familiar with the alterations should now take notice.

The major and most acute changes invove the late night services. The biggest being that the 11.30pm, Monday to Saturday service from Townsville to the Island, will now depart at 10.30pm with the 10.05pm (Mon-Sun) service also no longer available. The late Friday and Saturday night services from Townsville, departing at 12.30am, are also gone with the last now being 11.30pm from Townsville and 12.00am from the Island. Except for those Friday-Saturday late services the last ferry off Magnetic (Mon-Sun) will be at 11pm.

The only other change is a minor one: the early morning (Mon-Sat) ferry from Townsville now departing 5 minutes later at 5.35am.

The lessening of service has led one resident, Mr Ron Hocking of Nelly Bay, to write, "Giving island residents only two weeks notice of the cancellation of 2330 ferry Monday to Thursday, and 0030 Ferry Friday and Saturday is appalling. This is a major reduction to ferry services on to Maggie.

"For my family and another family it means we have to find accommodation in Townsville for a week, as our children are a part of the Grammar musical "The Chalk Circle" and are unable to return to our homes.

"It also means Magnetic island people are cut off from all cultural events that finish after 2200 Mon to Thursday, and after 2300 Friday and Saturday.

"Pity anyone that works shift work on the island such as nurses working in Townsville. Living on Magnetic will no longer be a viable option."

Magnetic Times has sought comment from Sunferries on these comments but is yet to receive a reply.

We did however seek Lorna Hempstead AM, President of the MI Community Development Association and also one of Magnetic's most frequent late returning passengers for her view. Lorna's attitude was considerably more sanguine. She responded, "As a traveller that quite often missed the 10.05pm and had to wait till the 11.30pm - I can testify that if there were 3 of us on the ferry it warranted a party.  I always felt that we were very "lucky" to have that service every night. Although there is a strong public service element that Sunferries must supply - I do understand that 2 -3 passengers (and most weeknights NONE from the Island at midnight), is probably stretching service a bit far.

"Sunferries have confirmed that given reasonable notice (ie MORE than a week) and, should a group of people need to travel later than 10.30pm from the mainland, or 11pm from the Island, when the 10.30pm ferry is the last one, they will hold for an event group. They are doing this next week for the Grammar School kids who are in a school play and would not quite make the 10.30pm.

"The next event I can see it likely to impact is the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, so those regular audience members would need to discuss holding the ferry for about 10-15 minutes. (Concerts usually finished by 10.20pm to 10.30pm - so enough time to dash....)"

Following is the new timetable which starts on Monday May 23

Story and file photo: George Hirst

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

Ferry timetable changes cause mixed reaction
May 20th 2011
I used to catch the last ferry's when I lived on the island & worked shifts in Townsville and more often then not I was the only passenger on the boat, Sunferries cant seriously be expected to run services just in case a couple of passengers might use it
May 20th 2011
It is wrong that those who may need to work on the mainland in hospitality are condemned to either pay for accommodation or lose jobs...or give up their lifestyle altogether. It is also wrong that we do not have the ability to have a night out on the mainland without having to act like boarding school kids and be home early.
May 20th 2011
Service providers need to provide a service and like so many providers they need to take the good times with the bad. I totally agree with Barbara. So many service providers these days only will provide a service that suits them and do not consider the clients they are providing a service for!This also happens when there is no competition i.e. from another ferry company. I bet they would not cut these services if there was anther ferry service involved as well!!!
May 21st 2011
Whatever. I don't mind baseless whingeing about the wrongness of service providers but condemning Magnetic Island to the tyranny of 'competing' ferry services is one bridge too far. We have done competition - it was a dismal failure. For at least ten years through the 1990s we had two or more operators - ending with two services operating at exactly the same times so that one wouldn't be disadvantaged. They both charged the same (high) fares and each business struggled because there wasn't enough turnover (about 280,000 return trips per year) to maintain both and each cut costs to the bone meaning working for them was also bad news. We're in clover now.
Fortunately, I don't have to argue the case here because the State of Queensland has spared me the trouble. Sunferries is a service provider to the Queensland Government and cannot change its fares or its timetable without specific consultation with the government. It's all there in the record but who cares?
Ron Hocking
May 22nd 2011
A few points

Lorna: If you missed the 1030 PM, you wont have the luxury of waiting for the 1130 Monday to Thursday.
We will all have to be home by midnight Fri an Sat.
Townsville has regular cultural events that some islanders attend such as folk club and PBLSC on Thursday nights. These are no longer an option for islanders. Very few events finish in time to catch a 1030 ferry.
The offer for Grammar was for one night, not the whole week as was needed for those in the play for rehearsals.

Mellita: At least you had the option to get home from shift work, we no longer do.

Chasmac: So the government was consulted on this these changes? Does any islander remember being asked if we wanted the late ferries cancelled?
The letter drop to homes from Sunferries fails to even mention the cancellation of 1130 ferry, perhaps they hoped we wouldnt notice.
I dont think we should be taking the reduction of services lying down. Protest to the provider and the government. You maybe the one that misses the 1030 PM and has to find somewhere to stay in TSV.

May 22nd 2011
Whilst it's true that the public has not been consulted, we virtually never have been. However, I am certain that the QG has approved this change after consideration of what would be commercial-in-confidence submissions from the company. Should these materials be publicly available? I doubt it would help.
When Sunferries first became the sole operator and entered into its protected business model with the government there were (I think) about 15 services per day. Now there are about 19, soon to come back to 18. No one has ever complained that there were too many services, that this might be wasteful, that the luxury of virtually empty vessels operating late on week nights should continue in perpetuity regardless of the expense.
On a slightly tangential subject, the 'old' Magnetic Island 'new' ferries, Sun Cat and Palm Cat were seen very recently plying their trade on Sydney Harbour - Sun Cat on the express Manly run and Palm Cat seemingly on some sort of whale watching operation - both out of Circular Quay.
May 22nd 2011
On this debate what we need to pay attention to is the following: Sunferries has been given "exclusive commercial rights" to operate passenger ferries to the island on the condition that they provide services to cater for the community of residents living on the island. The fact that late ferries have fewer passengers and may not be commercially viable as such should not be the only angle to consider here. Under the agreement of "exclusive rights" haven't those late services been part of the deal? Can Sunferries please disclose what the conditions are of their "exclusive rights" more openly to the island community with respect to provision of services? Can Sunferries please also detail to us what has been the consultation process with the island community prior to introducing those changes? Exlusive commercial agreements should cater for "diversity" of needs not "majority" of needs. The lack of late night services has serious implications as highlighted by some of your readers not to mention others like younger generations wanting to stay until later at parties on the weekend but still be safely back at home to sleep (which is much appreciated by the parents!). The exclusion of the late services means a clear reduction of the "opportunity" spectrum of cultural, social and ocupational activities to be pursued by island residents on the mainland at night. This should be a serious issue to consider.
May 23rd 2011
I totally agree with you Lea. As I said the Sunferries are a service provider and as such have to provide a service to their clients even if the late night one does not pay!!! No one on the Island as far as I know was consulted about these changes.
May 23rd 2011
Lea, when you use the expression "exclusive commercial rights" in inverted commas, you imply that this is some sort of quote from some source like a contract. Is this the case? I think you will find that there is an agreement (not "exclusive", not "commercial" and not detailing "rights") between the company and Queensland Transport, very similar to other agreements with the previous Magnetic Island Bus Service and presumably now with Sunbus. That agreement, which contains numerous mutual obligations and responsibilities, is administered by Q.Transport, not Sunferries. Why not follow normal convention and ask Q.Transport for details of its publicly administered agreement?

What do you think? Send us your comments.

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