A Regional Plan Is
the Best Plan for Ferry Service
Before there were bridges to
cross San Francisco Bay and the Delta waterways and highways to carry
vehicles from the East Bay westward, ferries were the preferred method
Today, as longer commute hours
offer up pictures in slow motion of freeways and highways clogged with
cars, a water-borne transportation system seems an attractive
In the Delta-North Bay area
Martinez, Crockett, Rodeo and Benicia, cities on either side of the
Carquinez Strait, served as ferry terminals long before the steel was
forged for the Benicia-Martinez and Carquinez bridges and the concrete
poured to construct Interstates 80 and 680.
The Vision and Conceptual
Design for a Bay Area High-Speed water Transit System, completed by
the Water Transit Initiative Task Force, the precursor to the San
Francisco Water Transit Authority (WTA), released in February 1999,
envisioned an initial, critical mass phasing that would include both the
cities with already established ferry service, such as Vallejo and
Richmond, as well as cities planned for Phase I water transit terminals
such as Benicia and Martinez. They are considered "first-tier
Officials of these
municipalities agree that a regional approach is the most expedient
manner of addressing the issue.
"The per passenger cost of
ferry operations is quite high. You need a strong ridership and an
operations subsidy to keep a ferry service viable," said Contra
Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, the countyís representative to the
WTA. "San Francisco Bay ferry service is a regional issue.
Locations need to be selected that would attract the most riders and
help the community in which the ferry terminal is located, and the
region as well. It needs to be decided on a regional basis."
Gioia, an attorney and Richmond
resident, handled some of the legal transactions involving land use
between the city and the Red and White Fleet, which operated ferry
service between Richmond and San Francisco for several months last year.
"Clearly, there were not
enough riders and the ferry service was a bit premature in its timing.
There is a lot of new development on the Richmond waterfront, with
biotech and high tech companies locating there. There will be lots of
new jobs as a result and an explosion of new housing at the marina. What
you will have is a reverse commute, with people coming from San
Francisco to work in those news jobs.
"Additionally, there was no
operational subsidy. It was the only one operating in the Bay Area
without a subsidy", Gioia noted.
Other contributing factors, he
suggested, were time/speed and marketing. It took 45-minutes to cross
the Bay between the two cities, a commute that would be shortened by a
faster boat which would help a ferry commute more attractive.
Additionally, better marketing was needed.
"I really believe that, at
least in the case of Richmond, a faster boat, an operating subsidy and
better timing would have helped and would help in the future," said
The second phase of the plan
envisions potentially adding the cities of Antioch and Pittsburg and the
unincorporated communities of Crockett and Rodeo. These are considered
"second tier" communities, with ferry service envisioned at 10
years or more down the road.
Pittsburg currently does not
have plans for a ferry terminal, according to city officials. Antioch,
which has major plans for its downtown and waterfront area, is
interested and its long-term marina plans call for a ferry pier.
Appointed to the WTA a few
months ago as the representative of the City of Antioch, City Council
Member Arne Simonsen is still quite new to the idea. He has not had the
opportunity to meet with the representatives from the other cities to
even begin discussing how his city would fit into the plan.
"Antioch was not even
listed on the original map that indicates where ferry service might be
located," Simonsen said. "I think a survey should be conducted
among Antioch residents to see if they are interested in a ferry
Although ferries plied the
waters between Martinez and Benicia in the mid-1800s, carrying men en
route to the Gold County to seek their fortunes, with the construction
of bridges and increased vehicular traffic, none have done so for many
The City of Benicia is not
interested in a ferry terminal due to its proximity to Vallejo, and is
concentrating instead on developing a new Intermodal that will include
train and bus service.
Envisioned by city leaders as a
destination spot for local and regional residents, the city-owned
Martinez Marina is undergoing a major refurbishing. Located near the
marina, a new Intermodal facility that is expected to open within a few
months would tie land and water transportation together. The city
currently does not have the funding for a ferry terminal, however.
"Anything that would
enhance ferry service in San Francisco Bay should be explored,"
said Nello Bianco, the newly appointed representative to the WTA from
the City of Martinez.
A number of Vallejo residents
currently commute to and from San Francisco on large high-speed
"The more types of public
transportation that are available the better," said Pam Belchamber,
transportation superintendent for the City of Vallejo.
"The goal of the WTA is to
look at all the work that has to be done around the San Francisco Bay
Area from a transportation standpoint, including more bus and rail
service," Belchamber noted. "Looking at ferries in isolation
has not been Vallejoís approach.
"Martinez," she said,
"is probably a viable location for a ferry as it is not too close
to BART. At what point and to what degree is the point. Thatís the
charge of the WTA. As much as Vallejo and Solano County residents would
love to have BART, it is not in our immediate future. The ferry is our
BART," Belchamber said.