Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Postcard from Tasmania: No spirit for the Spirit

In keeping with the season’s holiday mood, following are two snapshots of transport outside Melbourne. The first discusses ferry passenger connectivity facilities at Devonport, as encountered last week.

There couldn’t be any more contrast between transport facilities at each of the ‘Spirit of Tasmania’ termini. The Spirit is a large car and passenger ferry with daily night sailings with day sailings added during peak season.

Melbourne’s Station Pier is at the end of a major tram route, running every few minutes mostly on its own right of way. Pedestrian access is short, direct and legible, with excellent walking and cycling paths. A convenience store and restaurants are within sight. While less prominent, Bay Street’s shops and services are also comfortably walkable.

Devonport is Tasmania’s third city, smaller than only Hobart and Launceston. It is Tasmania’s northern gateway, welcoming backpackers and tourists to surrounding mountains, trails and farms.

The city is divided by the River Mersey. The CBD, accommodation, entertainment, tourist bureau and most housing is on the west bank. On the east is light industry, some housing and the Spirit of Tasmania ferry terminal. The ferry terminal is a stone’s throw across the water from the city centre, with land access via a bridge approximately 2km to the south.

View Larger Map

The Spirit of Tasmania and the people it brings is important to Devonport’s life and economy. Childrens’ murals on the showground’s wall often depict the ferry. The council office names Devonport as the ‘City with Spirit’. And the ship’s daily horn, what is to Devonport as church bells are to a medieval city, removes any doubt.

If the ferry is such a big thing in this town, let’s see how well the transport needs of its passengers are looked after, especially those who came without cars.

The photo shows the first impression arriving passengers get after leaving the ferry and collecting luggage.

Following are seven observations made following the day sailing on December 22, ie close to peak season.

1. The Spirit of Tasmania is scheduled to arrive at the 'out of town' East Devonport terminus at 6pm. However the Torquay ferry, which could provide a quick trip into town, only runs from 8am to 6pm, unsuitable for Spirit passengers arriving after six. The local tourist bureau confirmed services are not extended an hour in peak season to cater for the day ferry’s arrival.

2. The Merseylink town bus service operates to East Devonport via the aforementioned bridge. Route 60's nearest stop is about a five minute walk east of the ferry terminus (see map) so is potentially useful. That is until one checks the timetable, which had the last weekday bus leaving at 5:46pm. On Saturdays the last bus is at 4:00pm, while no service runs on Sundays. Again this service finishes too early to be useful for ferry passengers. In addition few town bus stops inspected had timetables, maps or route information so these service only really cater for residents, who through trial and error, already know where the bus goes.

3. Despite the absence of conventional public transport (ferry or bus) there appeared to be no shuttle bus to take alighting passengers to central Devonport, which would be a key destination for those staying or touring locally.

4. No taxis were seen in the area, despite the likely brisk business, due in part to the above limited transport options. There also appeared to be no visible taxi rank or signage indicating same.

5. Some ferry passengers had bicycles – presumably for touring. There were no defined cycle routes or wayfinding signage to guide their 4km ride into town, although the Council's Cycling Network Strategy identifies their need.

6. The tourist bureau correctly advised that the ferry terminal is about an hour’s walk from Devonport CBD. Again there was no map or wayfinding signage at the ferry terminal to assist those walking into town. Hence the sighting of of lost backpackers in an industrial area’s intersection not far from the ferry terminal.

7. The locals know their town has lousy transport, and sometimes offer tourists seen walking a lift. Although haphazard, this appears to be the most effective transport option that Devonport can offer day sailing passengers.


Melbourne has more than 100 times Devonport’s population. The big-city facilities at Station Pier are neither expected nor appropriate at East Devonport.

Nevertheless Devonport’s failure to provide low-cost facilities such as street maps, pedestrian and cycle wayfinding signage and taxi ranks surely reflects poorly on its support for a ferry service that Australian taxpayers subsidise (cars, not passengers, mind you). Extending either the Torquay ferry or Route 60's hours so it meets all Spirit sailings would also help connectivity.

Until then Devonport is worth visiting only to learn what not to do when it comes to connecting various transport modes or looking after disembarking passengers. As discussed last year southern Tasmania offers riper pickings for the transport tourist.


Andrew said...

Will what you have written go un-noticed? I don't think so. I hope you have stuck the proverbial rocket.

Unknown said...

Being a local person with a business on both sides of the river I can only agree with your comments and lament on our lack of effort in connecting tourists to our city. It is a crying shame that we will not embrace your comments as constructive criticism and deal with it in a professional manner. With your permission I would like to forward you comments to our local council with a view to improving this somewhat deplorable situation.



Peter Parker said...

No probs David - yes you can use it as you see fit. A shame since Devonport's a lovely city on the CBD side and towards the water, but you wouldn't know if you were just going past.