San Francisco pushes forward with ferry plan

The plan to expand high-speed ferry services in the San Francisco Bay Area is inching along, with officials hoping to receive bids in 2005 for the construction of up to three new ferries.

The long-term goal, according to Steve Castleberry, CEO of the San Francisco Bay Area Water Transit Authority, is to add eight new routes and improve service on existing routes, thus tripling ridership to 12 million by 2025. The plan also calls for the addition of up to 31 new ferries over the next 10 years. However, “we are funding constrained,” Castleberry said during a conference program at the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle in November.

The WTA is a regional agency authorized by the state of California to operate a comprehensive Bay Area public water transit system.

Castleberry said that one of the first challenges faced by WTA was that “they found out that not everyone was our friend.”

“We had to overcome public perception that it is boutique transit, not cost effective and creates environmental problems.” Since the plan was unveiled in 2002, the WTA has “eliminated much of the opposition to the initial expansion.”

WTA has moved forward, completing a 10-year expansion plan endorsed by the Regional Transportation Planning Agency and an environmental impact report that was not challenged by environmental groups. The WTA plans on using new technologies and alternative fuels that will reduce emissions.

“We are not the air quality solution for the Bay Area but are part of the mobility solution, and that is what we should focus on,” Castleberry said.

There are currently five ferry routes and four operators that handle about four million passengers a year in the Bay Area. Reaching the goal of tripling ridership by 2025 may be tough, based on the current funding setup. In reality, Castleberry said they are now looking at enough funding for two new routes and expanding service for the Vallejo and Alameda-Oakland routes.

The current schedule calls for requesting bids on two 149-passenger, 25-knot ferries in early 2005, and one 149-passenger, 15-knot fuel-cell ferry later in the year.         

                                — David Krapf 

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