Ferry Plans Headed for the Finish Line
By Teri Shore, Bluewater Network
The Summer of the Ferry is upon us. During
the hot and foggy days months ahead, the Bay Area will be
asked to weigh in on plans to expand the Bay’s ferry fleet.
After more than a year of study, next month the Water Transit
Authority will release its master ferry proposal and
environmental report. At public hearings in September and
October, we can decide what routes and types of vessels we
want based on the extensive inquiry conducted by the WTA and
its legions of consultants. Recent WTA sessions have
forecasted two key elements of the plan: the vessel types and
air emissions goals, and possible routes for an expanded
commuter ferry system.
The WTA has narrowed the vessels down to two
types: a 350-passenger fast ferry that travels 25 to 35 knots
for longer routes and a 149-passenger vessel that goes 15 to
25 knots on shorter runs.
Whatever ferryboats are ultimately built under WTA’s plan
are almost certain to be the cleanest ferries in the world.
These new vessels will be expected to emit at least 85 percent
less air pollution than standard new diesel marine engines
built after 2007. Bluewater Network applauds WTA’s
initiative for setting such a high standard and will work to
support a mandate that will apply that standard to WTA’s
fleet as well as all new ferries built in California. At those
emission levels, ferries will approach the per passenger
diesel emissions of transit buses and be cleaner than cars for
certain pollutants, according to air regulators’ estimates.
Recognizing the fact that the air pollution standard goes well
beyond the 2007 emission performance standards for marine
engines set by the Environmental Protection Agency, Bluewater
Network strongly urges the WTA to undertake pilot projects
designed to prove viability of the diesel and natural gas
fueled technology to meet the emission goals. The master WTA
plan should recommend pilot projects calling for the funding
and construction of two fast ferries for longer routes such as
Vallejo, both with best available after treatments, one fueled
with diesel and the other with natural gas. The two-path
approach will provide an alternative for meeting the WTA’s
emission goals should one or the other technology fail to do
In the Bay Area, transit operators that chose the diesel path
without other options found that diesel manufacturers did not
ultimately provide the cleaner engines in the timeline that
was promised. The ferry authority needs to avoid a similar
situation in order to be fiscally and environmentally
To lay the groundwork for the transition to even greener
ferries, the WTA should also propose a hybrid-electric ferry
for shorter routes such as Sausalito and Richmond.
The fuel cell ferry planned for Treasure Island demonstrates
WTA’s willingness to try out new technology. Adding the
other test boats into the mix will go far in gaining support
from the environmental and public health communities. The
pilot project will advance ferry technology around the world
and ensure that ferries on San Francisco Bay continue to get
cleaner in future generations.
Paying for ferries through increased bridge tolls should also
be linked to the WTA emission standards and the development of
cleaner ferry technology.
New studies on potential riders for expanded
ferry service on the Bay show the potential for a thriving
system by 2025. Today’s 12,000 round-trips (or about 6,000
riders) is projected to grow an average of 11 percent per year
to 43,000 round-trips over the next two decades if a “robust”
new system is approved by the legislature next year, according
to WTA presentations.
The routes under consideration include both new service and
increased headways on current commuter runs. Under the
most-likely plan, riders to Larkspur, Vallejo, Alameda and
Oakland would find more ferries running more often.
The top potential new routes based on riders include service
from San Francisco to Treasure Island, Berkeley, Mission Bay,
South San Francisco, Alameda Point, Richmond, and Redwood
Also still in the running for possible service over the next
20 years are Port Sonoma, San Leandro, Benecia/Martinez,
Antioch/Pittsburg, Hercules/Rodeo, San Leandro, and Moffett
Port Sonoma remains a great concern to environmentalists
because it is situated in wetlands that provide habitat for
endangered species. In addition, marina owners have not been
forthcoming with development plans related to ferry service,
making it impossible for meaningful discussions between the
conservation community and ferry planners.
Moffett Field service is apparently only viable via
Hovercraft, according to WTA studies. Bluewater Network would
vehemently oppose the operation of these polluting, noisy,
intrusive craft here or anywhere on the Bay. In addition,
Hovercraft should not be included in WTA’s recommendations
because this craft was never studied or discussed as part of
the Clean Marine Working Group.
Our voices will be heard at the upcoming hearings, and I hope
readers of Bay Crossings will also participate in this very
important ferry planning process.
To find out more, please contact me at (415) 544-0790, ext.
20, email@example.com or the Water Transit
Authority, www.watertransit.org. n