Making better use of waterways

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

a vaporetto on the Grand Canal in Venice

In some places in the world – Venice is the obvious place – ferries are vital transport links getting commuters to work and visitors to tour the sights.

But many places do not seem to have given water based transport the opportunities it could provide. Sometimes that is up to the apathy of thetravelling public and sometimes the authorities.

In the Australian city of Sydney, ferries are used by millions each year to get from the suburbs into the city at Circular Quay. The ferry from Manly, a tourist resort, is faster than the bus service and enables the visitor to see sights unable to be seen from the road. In addition, you get the best views of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

Manly Wharf & Ferry

Caledonian MacBrayne, (CalMac) the company which operates the UK’s largest ferry network, with 32 vessels carrying out more than 136,000 individual sailings annually in Scotland carried five million passengers for the very first time last year, up 400,000 passengers and 190,000 cars on the previous year. Much of the increase is due to visitors and the survival of the service is due, to some extent, that getting to the destinations  is not easy and, in some cases, ferries are the only alternative.

In London there are water based tours and a ferry service travels from Greenwich up to the west of London but the transport never seems that busy. Yet, once again, the ferry provides sights along the Thames that are different from any you will see touring by road.

A CalMac ferry in Mallaig

Cardiff is likely to have carried 200,000 people on its waterways in 2016-17 when figures are released in May, the harbour authority has said. But some say that, with five million people visiting Cardiff Bay annually the numbers should be higher.  They are in summer when the tourists come but in winter and spring few locals use the services.

The fact that Cardiff’s ferries rely on tourists is also seen in the German city of Potsdam. The city sits on an island so you would think that a ferry service would be popular but no, there is none. Commuters use the trains, trams and buses. When the season officially starts in March the boats come out to carry passengers.

Centuries ago, waterways were vital transport links. Trains and roads ended that. Given the finite space on roads should river boat travel be encouraged as a way for commuting and for tourists to see more of our destinations without having to put up with the slow pace of road travel?

Thanks due to Davie Kerr for spotting the Calmac ferry was at Mallaig and not at Fort William as I said.

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