Can River Ferries Deliver Smart Growth? Experience of CityCats in Brisbane, Australia

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - ferry, place - australasia, land use - transit oriented development, land use - smart growth


river ferries, Australia, densification, transit oriented development (TOD)


Brisbane, Australia, introduced catamaran river ferries (CityCats) in 1996 to help reorient the city to its river, to encourage inner city densification, and to spur changes in attitudes toward public transportation. The Brisbane ferry network has grown significantly over the past 14 years and is now a key commuter and tourist transport mode that in 2008 carried 6.28 million passengers, servicing 23 locations throughout the city. Two ferry terminals will be built during the coming years, with private land developers contributing partial funding for one terminal and total funding for the other. Although CityCats seemingly had been used successfully to achieve transit- (or ferry-) oriented development (TOD), a review of key transport and land use planning policy documents found that CityCats had not been used strategically to achieve TOD. This finding suggested that the relationship between the ferries and urban development had been more pragmatic and coincidental, whereas broader strategic planning had been focused more on general smart growth principles and transport planning, and TOD policy had mainly centered on rail and buses. Developments that surround the two new ferry terminals will not be dependent on the ferries for their success; their riverfront location alone ensures success. As with previous nodes on the CityCat network, the primary motivation for developer funding of ferry terminals was as a marketing tool to increase sales.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.