Planes versus ferries: weighing the costs

The federal transport minister Anthony Albanese this morning popped out a media release that won’t be heard by a legion of shivering mainlanders thinking about a beach in Queensland.

The minister reckons that, since 2007, the feds have pumped more than $120 million into subsidising holidays in Tassie through the state-owned TT Line, which is the Apple Isle’s lifeline to the rest of Australia for both tourism and commerce in general.

This morning, he announced that Canberra would continue to index the subsidies, which now amount to $194 one-way (up $6) for a standard car and $386 (up $12) for a motorhome or a car towing a caravan.

Considering all the other controversies swirling around Australia at the moment, I reckon what they call the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme is a no-brainer and a worthy use of our taxes.

For a start, most of the money is spent supporting the Tassie Government’s shipping company, TT Line, which is no black hole. It is actually making a small profit and this month it is due to become debt-free, having paid off nearly $200 million worth of ships, the Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2.

The government stats boffins, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, believe the subsidy is increasing the number of people taking their cars to Tassie by up to 28 per cent a year. A 2008-09 study showed more than 12,000 people took their cars on the Bass Strait ferry only because of the deal-sweetener made available by the government.

It should be pointed out that the ferry isn’t a cheap way to get to Tassie per se, but it’s cheap if you calculate the cost of the alternative: flying to Tassie and renting a car to get around in.

For example, this morning I looked ahead at the cost of the cheapest passenger option, a “recliner” seat, plus a standard car for travel a month out in July and it was going to set me back $400 return.

Different fares are made available at different times of the year – for example in the traditionally “low” seasons of November and February, although the seasonal lines are being blurred more and more as each year passes.

It’s evident that TT Line is hanging on to a fair bit of the subsidy from Canberra, but turn it into an airfare and five days car hire and I’d say you’d be well ahead taking the boat.

Of course, prime time for Tassie is November to March; June is prime time for the toasting rays up north.

But there are worse things than a cold-climate holiday and I’d reckon Tassie isn’t just popular among our wandering tribes of caravanners.

Have you recently taken the car to Tassie? Is it on the radar for next spring or summer? Is Tassie underrated or overrated?