A 20 year vision for the Mersey Ferries, aiming to secure their future for generations to come, will be put to the Merseytravel Committee for approval in January (Thursday 7th).
The strategy is centred around bringing down the cost of the Mersey Ferries to the public purse, while building on their commercial potential, ensuring they are sustainable well into the future. It suggests a focus on growing the local leisure market and highlights some far reaching proposals.
Proposals include the procurement of at least one new vessel, better suited to the needs of the leisure and event market; resources focussed into one Wirral landing stage with the closure of the other, and a later start to the commuter service to allow the ferry to be docked overnight to significantly reduce operational costs.
While endorsement will be sought for the overall strategy in January, Members will not be taking any decisions on any of the proposals outlined at that stage. These will be presented to Members at future meetings with detailed evidence to support each approach, so informed decisions can be taken.
While their public subsidy for operational costs has been reduced by around £1m over the past four years through such measures as taking The Royal Daffodil out of service and increasing leisure sailings, the Mersey Ferries still have to be subsidised by around £1.5m a year for day-to-day costs.
In addition, an average of around just under £2.5m a year of public money has been spent on capital programmes over the past six years including investment in maintaining the current Vessels and a new Pier Head Landing Stage.
These costs are despite them being the most popular paid for attraction on Merseyside.
The strategy recognises that fundamental changes are needed to tackle increasing costs and the challenges that come with an aging fleet – now approaching 60 years old – and to go some way to reversing the trend of falling passenger numbers.
Over a number of decades the market has changed from a buoyant cross-river one to one focussed on leisure sailings as people choose the Mersey Tunnels or rail to ‘short hop’ across the water.
It is intended that the strategy will be reviewed every two or three years to ensure that it remains current and takes into accounts developments and potential opportunities in the wider Liverpool City Region such as through Wirral and Liverpool Waters.
Said Gary Evans, Merseytravel’s head of customer delivery:
“Our success in winning Ferry Operator of the Year at the National Transport Awards recognised the strides we have taken in making the Mersey Ferries a more efficient operation, whilst continuing to get customers on board.
“It also recognised us making the most of opportunities, from the key role the ferries played in welcoming Cunard’s Three Queens to the launch of the ‘Dazzle Ferry’ – an art and history project of national significance.
“Should Members approve the strategy, there will be some exciting decisions for them to take and some difficult ones. However, to secure the Mersey Ferries for future generations to enjoy we have to think big and differently.
“Efficiency has to go hand in hand with looking at the wider economic benefits the Mersey Ferries bring to the Liverpool City Region – looking at how we can build passenger numbers and their commercial potential.”
Some of the key recommendations outlined in the strategy:
An overall focus on building and growing the Mersey Ferries’ leisure market, not least as demand for cross-river services continues to decline and the number of leisure passengers goes up.
Moving towards a new fleet of Vessels – recognising that the current Vessels are over 50 years old and that introducing new ones would support a reduction in operational costs. New vessels would also mean that the leisure market could be better catered for. The existing ferries were built for largely ‘short hop’, cross-river journeys. It is hoped that the names of the Vessels can be retained.
Recognising the major investment needed in the two terminals and landing stages in Wirral over the next five years and targeting that investment into one terminal and looking to close the other.
Considering retaining one of the existing vessels and operating it in the Manchester Ship canal only, therefore offering canal style cruises that are not tide dependent outside of peak times.
Considering changes to the commuter service which would remove the need to have the vessel on the river overnight – including starting later.
Looking to increase ferry presence on the river with a second vessel during peak times such as school holidays. Moving from an hourly river explorer to maybe every 30 minutes.