Tag Archives: traffic

Transition?

I am grateful to Waterways Ireland for letting me have the Shannon traffic figures for July 2013. As I said last month:

The usual caveats apply: the underlying figures (kindly supplied by Waterways Ireland) do not record total waterways usage because, for instance, sailing, fishing or waterskiing on lakes or river stretches, which did not involve a passage through a lock or Portumna Bridge, would not be recorded. The passage records are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the Shannon but they would not show, for instance, a change in the balance of types of activities from those in larger cruising boats to those in smaller (sailing, fishing, waterskiing) boats. It is quite possible, therefore, that overall usage might be increasing while long-distance cruising was declining.

I also said:

[…] the figures show a small increase over 2012 in passages by private boats. I suspect that July’s warm weather will spur a further increase.

And so indeed it proved to be.

Shannon all JanJul

A slight increase

July’s traffic was up enough to increase the total for the year to date: the first increase (for the period January through July) since 2003.

Here are the figures as percentages of the 2003 figure.

Shannon all JanJul %

Seven-month totals as percentages of the 2003 seven-month total

The total is still around 60% of 2003’s figure: a significant decline. But there was a marked increase in private traffic …

Shannon private JanJul %

Private traffic up

… while the decline in the hire-boat traffic continued.

Shannon hire JanJul %

Hire-boat traffic down

Over on Afloat, someone wrote that:

[…] a source close to Afloat.ie says that the falling numbers may be skewed by a growing emphasis on larger-capacity vessels on Ireland’s inland waterways, with eight- and 12-berth boats supplanting older four-berth vessels, and families and groups consolidating their recreational boating.

I don’t know what “skewed” is intended to mean. Well-capitalised hire firms may be adding larger boats to their fleets, but the number of passages is down by 60% and sources close to irishwaterwayshistory.com say that the combined hire fleet is down from about 500 to about 250 boats.

That doesn’t mean that the hire-boat industry is entirely dead, but it is much less important to the Irish waterways than it was. I don’t know of any published figures [if IBRA would like to supply them, I’ll happily publish them], but I suspect that employment within the industry has gone down and that its comparative economic importance to the Shannon and to the Irish tourist industry has declined too. And here is an interesting chart:

Shannon private v hire JanJul

The transition

 

For the first time that I know of, the seven-month figures show that measured private traffic outweighs hire-boat traffic. It may be that we need new approaches to attracting more overseas visitors to the Shannon. According to Waterways Ireland’s Lakelands & Inland Waterways Strategic Plan 2010–2015 (which I can no longer find on the WI website):

The mission of the Lakelands and Inland Waterways Strategic Plan is:
Throughout the Lakelands and Inland Waterways Region, to increase domestic and overseas visitors in number and revenue, while supporting existing sustainable tourism enterprises and encourage emerging tourism businesses through a series of practical business supports.

The plan was short on hard numbers for its targets, but at least as far as the Shannon hire business is concerned, it ain’t working.

 

Shannon traffic to June 2013

The figures for Shannon lock passages to the end of June 2013 are now available. The decline continues, though perhaps more slowly.

Shannon traffic Jan to June percent

Shannon lock and bridge passages January to June as percentages of the 2003 number

The usual caveats apply: the underlying figures (kindly supplied by Waterways Ireland) do not record total waterways usage because, for instance, sailing, fishing or waterskiing on lakes or river stretches, which did not involve a passage through a lock or Portumna Bridge, would not be recorded. The passage records are our only consistent long-term indicator of usage of the Shannon but they would not show, for instance, a change in the balance of types of activities from those in larger cruising boats to those in smaller (sailing, fishing, waterskiing) boats. It is quite possible, therefore, that overall usage might be increasing while long-distance cruising was declining.

Shannon traffic Jan to June private

Shannon lock and bridge passages by private boats January to June

As it happens, the figures show a small increase over 2012 in passages by private boats. I suspect that July’s warm weather will spur a further increase.

Folk living in Ireland, whether owners or prospective hirers, are likely to be able to react quickly to better (or worse) weather by doing more (or less) boating; folk living abroad may be less able to change their holiday plans. Accordingly, July’s weather might (I’m speculating here) mean an increase in passages by private boats and by boats hired by Irish residents; it might not lead to an increase in hiring from abroad.

Traffic in hired boats continued to decline in June.

Shannon traffic Jan to June hire

Shannon lock and bridge passages by hired boats January to June

That decline outweighed the small increase in private traffic, leading to an overall decline in the first six months as compared with the same period in 2012, which itself continued the pattern set in 2007.

Shannon traffic Jan to June all

Shannon lock and bridge passages by all boats January to June

I wondered whether the figures might show any change in the geographical distribution of activity. WI’s reports don’t show separate figures for private and hired boats for the individual locks, but it seems to me that the hire business is becoming more concentrated on northern waters, from Lough Ree upwards. If that is so, then there might be an increase in the proportion of passages through the northern locks, from Tarmonbarry upwards, and a decrease in the proportion passing through Portumna Bridge and Meelick (Victoria) Lock.

I put the WI reporting stations in four groups:

  • Portumna + Meelick
  • Athlone
  • Tarmonbarry, Clondra, Roosky, Jamestown (Albert), Knockvicar (Clarendon)
  • the also-rans: the three locks leading to Lough Allen, Pollboy leading to Ballinasloe, the Limerick sea-lock (Sarsfield).

The figures suggest that the distribution is indeed changing, but gradually rather than dramatically. Athlone’s figures are pretty steady, the outliers are declining slightly and Portumna + Meelick are declining a bit more; the northern locks (Tarmonbarry to Knockvicar) are taking the gains. Comments or alternative interpretations welcome.

Change by region

Lock passages by group

The figures for 2013 are for the six months January to June; those for other years are for twelve months.

The locks could of course be grouped in other ways, and I may try some of them in future months.

Shannon traffic figures May 2012

Amended to add linear trendlines to the graphs.

Passages recorded at each location in May

Portumna Bridge      635
Victoria Lock             618
Athlone Lock              771
Tarmonbarry Lock 433
Clondra Lock                91
Roosky Lock              622
Albert Lock                826
Clarendon Lock        692
Battlebridge                 74
Drumleague                 70
Drumshanbo Lock    54
Pollboy Lock            237
Sarsfield Lock             14

Total                  5137

Figures courtesy of Waterways Ireland.

Total passages for first five months of the year

2002 14630
2003 14840
2004 13993
2005 12693
2006 12184
2007 14013
2008 12273
2009 11407
2010   9800
2011    9103
2012    9189

Derived from WI data.

Charts with trendlines

The decline continues.