Sydney’s most iconic feature is its harbour - containing landmarks such as the harbour bridge and opera house. The complex ferry network that spans this harbour is an integral part of the essence of the harbour. The network carried 15.4 million passenger journeys in 2015-16 making it an essential aspect of Sydney’s transport system. Visualising key aspects of the network helps us understand the system better.

There are 39 wharfs in use by Transport for NSW with seven major routes:
F1 Manly, F2 Taronga Zoo, F3 Parramatta River, F4 Darling Harbour, F5 Neutral Bay, F6 Mosman Bay
& F7 Eastern Suburbs

This interactive infographic depicts the direct connections between the wharves. The wharves are grouped by colour corresponding to their route. Most wharves are connected to their direct neighbours while others like Balmain connect to many wharves.

The bar chart around the outside represents newly released Opal data. This data counts the number of tap on/offs that occurred at each wharf over 2 weeks in August 2016. As expected, most of the traffic goes through Circular Quay totalling 248,764 taps with Manly second at 90,881. (Source)


Let's look at a typical Wednesday for Sydney’s ferries. The action starts at 5:00 AM when the first ferries go out. There is a sudden explosion of activity in the morning as workers commute to the city. The quickest way to the CBD from Manly is via ferry and the constant activity of the Manly ferry continues all day.

Around 7:00 PM the activity dwindles as less ferries continue to operate. By 9:00 PM almost all ferries are docked for the night at either Circular Quay or the Balmain Shipyard in Mort Bay, ready to start again the next morning.


The following chart plots the number of journeys that the ferry network handled for each financial year since 2010. In August 2013 Opal was fully rolled out for ferries which saw a large increase in ferry use.


(Data sources: 2010-14, 2014-15, 2015-16). The NSW Transport Minister, Andrew Constance, has announced plans to increase Opal fares by 2.4% from July 3 saying “we have adjusted the fares in line with inflation”. (Source)


Part of the personality of the ferries, and therefore the harbour, are the unique names of each ferry. These names include ‘Friendship’, ‘Alexander’, ‘Sirius’, ‘Dawn Fraser’ and ‘Lady Herron’. Each ferry belongs to one of 4 categories: a ship from the First Fleet, a famous Australian historical figure, a beach or an Australian female athlete.
This graphic shows the distribution of the various types of names amongst the 27 ferries currently in operation. (Source)

Sydney’s harbour would not be the same without its iconic ferries. As an integral part of Sydney’s transport network, understanding the network is an important task yet difficult with such a complex network. However, with data constantly being produced by the Opal system and by the ferries themselves there is a large amount of information available to both the public and Transport for NSW about the modern state of the Sydney Ferry Network.

Alex Elton-Pym - June 2017