Sydney ferry retiring amid backlash

The Queenscliff is one of four vessels that will make way for smaller, faster ferries.
The Queenscliff is one of four vessels that will make way for smaller, faster ferries.

After 40 years and almost three million kilometres, the Queenscliff ferry will on Wednesday traverse Sydney Harbour from Manly to Circular Quay one last time.

At the helm of her last passenger service will be Austin Hart, the son of the ferry master who led her first in July 1983.

The Queenscliff is one of four Manly ferries being pushed out of service to make way for smaller, faster vessels.

Two of the city's four Freshwater ferries will continue running next year, but only on weekends and public holidays.

That decision has drawn ire - their replacements have been plagued with delays and issues, and locals say the current set are iconic tourist attractions.

Northern Beaches Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham is one of those outraged.

"Manly's famous ferry fleet is being reduced to a shadow of its former glory," she said in a statement.

"These ferries, along with the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, are icons of Sydney Harbour. Just as London is famous for its red double-decker buses and San Francisco its cable cars."

The Maritime Union of Australia is also upset, calling the move to retire a vessel with "plenty of life left" a disgrace.

"The three Emerald Class ferries that are supposed to replace the Manly ferries, still have not had all of their safety issues resolved," the union's Paul Garrett said.

"Despite being in Australian waters since the start of the year, there has been a significant question mark over whether they can even handle the swell going across the Heads."

A parliamentary petition with more than 20,000 signatures was also tabled in February decrying the decision, and Labor transport spokeswoman Jo Haylen is calling for new Transport Minister Rob Stokes to overturn it.

"Mothballing one of our iconic Manly ferries will lead to service cancellations, delays and reduced capacity right at the start of the service's summer peak," she said in a statement.

"The replacement Emerald Class ferries have been in Sydney for more than nine months but they are yet to carry a single passenger."

In a last-ditch effort to save the Queenscliff, a group of supporters will board its last service at 2.15pm on Wednesday.

Transport for NSW said the new approach was about finding the right balance between commuters' needs and the community's strong attachment to the Freshwater ferries.

"The decision we've made will support tourism by providing opportunities for more customers to visit the northern beaches by ferry, not less," a spokesperson said.

"On busy summer weekends, there will be the iconic Freshwater services running every hour and we still have the flexibility to operate up to an additional six Emerald services every hour if needed.

"That's more than enough capacity to ensure demand is met over the busy summer months."

The new Manly ferries are expected to make their debut in November.

Australian Associated Press