New Boss for Golden Gate
Bay Crossings welcomes Jim Swindler, the
newly settled Director of Operations for Golden Gate
Transportationís Ferry Division. Jim came to the San
Francisco area in late October in answer to a national
search to fill the very large shoes of Dave Clark, who
passed away from cancer last year. Jim left a position as
the Director of Operations for Woods Hole, Marthaís
Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamship Authority in his home
state of Massachusetts where he had worked for 14 years.
Prior to his work as a Ferry Company Director, he worked in
ship design, which was a career move from where it all
started, in a shipyard long ago.
BC: Welcome Jim! What do you think of living in the land
of earthquakes so far?
Jim: I think living in the San Francisco area is great. The
weather is absolutely phenomenal. I had been getting very
tired of the winters back East. The last two winters before
we left were terrible, so I can tell you I have totally
enjoyed the weather here. Iíve been here through one winter
already and the rain is nothing. I absolutely love the City;
I still havenít gotten over it and the bridge. Iím in awe of
BC: Where did you choose to live?
Jim: We chose San Rafael in the Bay Point area, although we
looked in Novato. We were a little sticker shocked with the
price of homes but we got beyond that. Though our house is
not right on the water, it is only one house back so we can
see the water from a couple of rooms. It is only 3.5 miles
from the office, so itís a short commute.
BC: You have challenges ahead of you. Is the renovation
of the Golden Gate Bridge effecting operations with the
ferry division and Golden Gate Transit on the whole?
Jim: The whole district, the Golden Gate District itself,
has been going through somewhat of a financial crisis. They
have been working for the last couple of years to try to
work through that, and it has affected the ferry operation.
Weíve had to look at all the divisions and try to do things
more efficiently. As with any organization when you go
through the good times, when everything is great, you donít
watch things as much as you could. We are at a period now
where we are looking around at things and trying to do them
more efficiently than we have in the past. Weíve just
changed the vessel schedules.
BC: Is it possible that RM-2 will provide any relief for
Golden Gate Transit expansion?
Jim: I only know some of the details for RM-2. Our bridge
toll was not affected. I donít know if funds raised will in
anyway contribute to Golden Gateís success. Iíve been
talking with Steve Castleberry occasionally at WTA
(Waterfront Transit Authority) to stay close to that. He is
trying to help us out in looking for funding for a couple of
small projects we are working on. If any of that is tied
into RM-2, I donít know. Iím trying to sort out all the
different funds that help fund the transportation system out
In Massachusetts was the system self- supporting or
Jim: It claims to be, and it is the only one I know of, that
was supported purely on fare marks revenue. There were no
federal funds or state funds. It was basically a public
operation run, on the finance side, like a private
BC: How much did it cost to ride ferries there?
Jim: The passenger side was probably equivalent. When I
left, passengers paid from Woods Hole to Marthaís Vineyard
somewhere in the $5 range, which is similar to our fare from
Marin to SF. To go from Hainesport to Nantucket, at 17-mile
trip, was $8, similar to SF to Vallejo. The vehicles are
where it got interesting. The ferries are bigger to carry
vehicles. They carry over a million vehicles a year. The
business and price was seasonal. To take a vehicle to
Marthaís Vineyard round-trip was $150 and to make the
Hainesport to Nantucket trip with a car was well over $300.
That is where it got interesting and it will be interesting
to see if they can continue to operate without a subsidy.
All of this was accomplished with two ferries, and one was
BC: Southern Pacific, before the bridges, carried cars
for a dollar. Times change. Do you think the ferry systems
here will go back to carrying cars?
Jim: I would doubt it with the full transportation and
bridge structure here. The Golden Gate Bridge is congested
for a period in the morning and afternoon but otherwise
still has quite a bit of capacity. Iím not sure about the
other bridges, but it seems there are plenty of ways to get
to the City. I donít think folks would be too interested in
bringing their vehicles in. The City has parking issues, so
theyíre probably not too interested in attracting more
vehicles into the City. As long as we can continue to supply
other forms of transportation on the ferry side, I expect
the Bay will never see a vehicle-carrying ferry again.
BC: Did you sell the vessel the Golden Gate?
Jim: We are in the process of issuing an RFP (request for
proposal) to sell it. We did take it out of service. It is
an older vessel, and needs a lot of work. This fits into
what I was talking about before on efficiency. We had six
vessels. We probably need four, so having two extra vessels
is a bit much. We will keep the current fleet: two
high-speed vessels and three Spauldings.
BC: What do you like best about the San Francisco Bay
Jim: Iíd have to say the weather. The beauty of it all. It
is just a gorgeous area. I got here at the end of October. I
went through a winter which to me was absolutely pleasant.
The rain did not bother me at all. The weather the past
couple of months has been absolutely gorgeous. The whole
area is great. One other thing is different. Comparing the
East Coast to the West Coast, at least in this area,
everyone is a lot more friendly. My wife would say the same
thing. Everywhere you go, even in the stores, everyone is
friendly and willing to help you. The East Coast will always
be my home, but people are somewhat stuffy there.
BC: What are your goals for Golden Gate Ferry Operationís
Jim: Our current goal is to do more things efficiently.
Better operations and better service. We are working very
hard to try to increase rider-ship. The whole area has gone
through tough times recently. We are seeing signs that the
economy is starting to change again. Our lots (in Larkspur)
are again full on the weekdays but there is quite a bit of
room on weekends. We are looking at more creative ways to
attract more people to ride the ferries on weekends. We are
working with the Farmersí Markets to see what we can jointly
do there. There are a lot of ideas we will explore to
increase rider-ship. We have a very creative and active
marketing group in San Rafael that are always coming up with
good ideas. We look at each and every one of them as an
opportunity to provide expanded services and generate
additional revenue that we otherwise we could not have
Beyond that, there has always been discussion about an
additional route to the Sonoma area. We have other things on
our plate right now, but after we get through those that
will be an exciting thing to explore. It will be very
exciting to explore, whether it is feasible or not.
Based on what Iíve seen so far, the folks
in the Ferry Division are ideally suited for this job. All
of our people are friendly, outgoing, and very helpful by
nature and habit. They really love the customers. They
interact well with the customers. We have a good group in
place to build on. I do like working with them. They are a
very energetic group. Even though we are going through some
difficult times now looking at potential cuts and possible
downsizing in certain areas, they have remained upbeat
through it and understand itís a district issue, and we have
to get through it. And I think, after we get through this
period, there are nothing but good things in the future.
We are open. Iím there and always willing
to listen. There are a lot of things we can do and any
suggestions would be greatly appreciated. On the basis of
the response we got to some public outreach, we changed our
schedules. During that time, I had a chance to talk to a lot
of customers. I looking forward to being out there and
talking to more of our customers. I plan to spend more time
on the vessels. Other than a conversation on the vessels,
the best way to reach me is to send an e-mail to email@example.com
or call the main phone number listed on the schedule. Iím
located in Larkspur, so if there is an issue someone wants
to discuss with me, it is fine to stop in. If someone would
rather write a note, they can give it to any terminal person
and it will get to me. I look forward to meeting everybody
and we will go from there.