East Bay, Ferries, Peninsula

A Ferry for Oyster Point

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:

Courtesy San Francisco Examiner.

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.



9 thoughts on “A Ferry for Oyster Point

  1. Ferries are cool, but I feel like the cool factor is the main reason they are being concerned.

    If you have to ride a bus to get to the ferry and then another shuttle to get to your office–wouldn’t it be better, if less romantic, to just put dedicated bus/carpool lanes on all BA bridges and freeways, and take a bus the whole distance.

    I’d rather see this money invested in improving access between SSF CalTrain and the Oyster Point area, which right now is really miserable. You would probably get more bang for the buck in terms of new transit riders per $$$.

    Posted by Nick/295bus | 23 January 2008, 8:51 pm
  2. As cost-ineffective as this may be, and I’m not saying I support it, it’s not as bad as some of the proposals. A ferry from Redwood City to SF, which is almost certain to be slower, less conveniently located, and less frequent than already-existing Caltrain? What in the world could they be thinking?

    Posted by Aaron Priven | 23 January 2008, 10:38 pm
  3. Are these going to be high-speed ferries? If so, 35 minutes seems too long. That’s how long it takes to get all the way up to Larkspur from the Ferry Building. I know the Estuary requires them to slow down, but they do the same thing from before San Quentin to the terminal in Larkspur. If they’re single-hull boats, then it sounds about right.

    Posted by peanut gallery | 24 January 2008, 10:25 am
  4. High-speed ferries were not planned for this route, and to my knowledge, that hasn’t changed. I think that the Examiner article was the first time I’ve seen a 25-minute figure quoted for the JLS trip.

    Posted by Eric | 24 January 2008, 1:26 pm
  5. South City Caltrain station is miserable indeed, but nobody who would use a Jack London terminal is on Caltrain anyway.

    Posted by EBtoPenCommuter | 25 January 2008, 10:25 am
  6. Well, this would definitely improve transportation. Ferry terminal will be the best of all route ever being made.



    Ferry to France

    Posted by Ricky | 11 August 2008, 8:57 pm
  7. When is this set to open?!

    Posted by Valerie | 27 February 2012, 2:51 pm


  1. Pingback: Menu for the Bay Area Transportation Stimulus « Transbay Blog - 9 February 2009

  2. Pingback: WETA Plans Changes for East Bay Ferries « Transbay Blog - 7 April 2009

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


RSS Feed Facebook Twitter Flickr

Archives by Month

Archives by Topic

Archives of all blog posts, organized by topics and themes. Click here for more.


Links to some of our favorite urbanist and transit blogs, websites, advocacy groups, news sources, and government agencies. Click here for more.

If you are interested in California water issues, you may want to check out my other blog on that topic.

Copyright © 2007-2021 Transbay Blog.
%d bloggers like this: