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Council faces Lower Portland Ferry charging dilemma

Aug 7, 2023

Hawkesbury City Council and Hills Council will have to make a decision by next July whether to start charging for use of the Lower Portland Ferry or whether they will make their ratepayers pay an extra combined $125,000 a year when state funding runs out.

Transport for NSW operates 12 vehicle ferries at nine locations across NSW and  there are at least an additional six ferry services operated by local councils and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. With the exception of Lower Portland, all ferries operated by local councils have a service charge for usage.

The state government appears unlikely to want to take over the operation of the ferry, despite pleas by Hawkesbury Mayor Sarah McMahon last week but it is working to try and provide a loan vehicle while the ferry is pulled out of the water for scheduled maintenance in coming months.

These were made after a last minute deal saw the ferry operator TONO, agree to recant on its decision to cease operating the ferry – its  advice to HCC was on July 25 –  and continue it until Sept. 2024. But the four year, $500,000 deal with the NSW government ends 30 June, 2024. 

Who will pay for the Lower Portland Ferry?

Transport for NSW sources said that the idea behind the one-off funding was so the two councils would transition the service in some way during the term of the funding.

Once the funding ceases, ratepayers would bear an additional $125,000 a year –  if no charge is added to the service.

“Transport for NSW will work with Hawkesbury Council to explore options to ensure that the Lower Portland Ferry remains in operation for the community. This includes current discussions around assisting Hawkesbury Council with a loan vessel during upcoming key maintenance work,” a spokesman for Transport for NSW told The Hawkesbury Post.

“Transport for NSW provided Hawkesbury City Council with a one-off four year funding contribution of $500,000 towards running the Lower Portland. That funding runs until June 2024.

In the Hawkesbury, Transport for NSW operates the Sackville, Wisemans Ferry and Webb Creek vehicle ferries 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Lower Portland ferry has a significantly lower patronage and Hawkesbury City Council operates this 5am to midnight, seven days a week.”

The cost to Hawkesbury – and Hills –  ratepayers of funding the ferry remains shrouded in secrecy – a figure of $24 per car and an overall cost of $600,000 have been floated on social media

HCC would not answer detailed questions about the ferry’s operations. It is unclear if TONO will be receiving extra payments to keep the ferry running.

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