The San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transit Authority dreams of a bright day in the future when many points all around the Bay will be accessible via an expanded ferry network that would carry many more passengers, make more effective connections to buses and rail, and generally be regarded as a serious alternative to land transportation. Among its several proposed additional routes is a direct link between the East Bay and Oyster Point in South San Francisco. Two weeks ago, the South San Francisco City Council unanimously approved the construction of a landmark ferry terminal at Oyster Point, which would be served by ferries running to and from Oakland’s Jack London Square, possibly as early as next year. This ferry ride would not only be more relaxing and scenic than taking BART or driving, it could also be faster than either of those alternatives, at least before you factor in a bus ride to or from the terminal. One note: although this Examiner article reports a 25-minute trip, the EIR estimated about 35 minutes from Oyster Point to Jack London Square, with trips several minutes shorter to either Harbor Bay or Alameda Point. Those travel times seem to be based on three different East Bay terminals rather than multiple stops; I do not know the source of the 10-minute discrepancy, but the 35-minute trip to Jack London Square seems more likely, to allow for passage through the Oakland Estuary.
The Oyster Point location is of course nowhere near BART’s hillside Peninsula route, but it also misses Caltrain’s South San Francisco station, which is located just south of where Oyster Point Boulevard crosses over the tracks. Walking near “scenic” Highway 101 is unpleasant in any event, so SamTrans feeder buses and company shuttles will be necessary to facilitate connections to local destinations. The ferry route is estimated to have just 700 daily riders (increasing to about 1000 by the year 2025), most of which would be employees commuting from the East Bay to the growing concentration of biotech offices located in South San Francisco. Genentech, for instance, estimates that about 10% of its workforce lives within ten miles of Jack London Square and will include the new ferry service in its incentive plan that provides employees with $4 a day to use on alternative transportation.
The Oyster Point terminal was designed by ROMA Design, the group who was behind Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and who previously worked on redoing the public space that connects the Ferry Building to downtown in the wake of the Embarcadero Freeway’s destruction. The design for the ferry terminal includes a glass-covered pier to protect passengers from the wind:
In addition to the $12 million required for two new vessels, construction of the terminal will run up $29 million; the WTA expects to fill an outstanding $5 million funding gap by the summer. Funding sources include Regional Measure 2 (which allocates capital funds for the new ferries and $3 million annually for operations) and Measure A, San Mateo County’s sales tax extension, which would be applied generally to San Mateo County ferry service, including the new South San Francisco service.
In terms of mobility improvement, the new ferry route and terminal constitute a mild proposal, and with a mere 700 daily riders estimated, this project won’t win any awards for cost-effectiveness. More generally, though: as much as we might relish the romantic vision of an expanded ferry network crisscrossing the Bay at all points, the lack of dense uses at most Bay Area waterfronts (downtown San Francisco is the exception, not the rule) makes it difficult to seamlessly integrate ferries into the network of land transit. Radically rethinking waterfronts around the region may provide a long-term method of systematically increasing ferry ridership, but that can be a difficult proposition for environmental reasons. In the meantime, we would have to rely on inelegant solutions like bus bridges. This is not to say that we should not investigate service expansion, only that we should temper our goals and spending so that they align with realistic expectations about the transportation role that ferries will play in the future.