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Spare the Water Days

By enelson
Friday, July 21st, 2006 at 10:56 pm in ferries, Funding.

s4ferry - Nick Lammers.jpg

Photo by Nick Lammers – STAFF

Perhaps two of the lessons to be learned from free transit on Spare the Air Days are that ferry service is too expensive and that it could really take off if it was expanded, as prominent Bay Area business leaders would like to see.

That should lend some heft to the ferry proposals contained in the nascent regional transportation plan approved Thursday by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

The plan would cost  $500 million and combine bayside development with ferry services, hoping that the new residents will commute by water and not add to congestion on the bridges, the I-880, I-80 or U.S. 101.

What does this have to do with Spare the Air? Plenty. The mode of transit that was most popular when free rides were offered was waterborne. Now, it’s easy to blame day-trippers and bored house-spouses for the 500-percent jump in Sausalito ferry riders. But the Alameda-Oakland, Alameda Harbor Bay and Larkspur ferry services all saw huge spikes in ridership.

People like the ferries. It’s a nice way to get to work. The problem is, as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Randy Rentschler explains, the ferries are expensive to operate and even with a hefty subsidy, passengers still have to pay big fares to get across the pond.

My thought is that one of the hallmarks of good transit, besides getting people to work reliably, is that it gets you there with as little stress as possible, preferably even more composed than the beginning of the trip. Cruising across the Bay seems to have that effect on a lot of people.

Still, if you can get across faster on BART, the nice ride may be dispensable. How people warm up to the existing East Bay ferries in the coming weeks will tell.

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5 Responses to “Spare the Water Days”

  1. V Smoothe Says:

    The ferry is a money pit! I too think that the ferry is a pleasant way to travel, and I’m happy that it exists. But the massive expansion of the ferry system is an enormous waste of precious transit resources. As popular as it may be, the number of people who take the ferry is miniscule compared with those who depend on BART and buses.

    We’re talking about a $500 million plan to expand a service that currently serves 10,000 people a day! With a long term goal of increasing that to only 30,000 people a day 20 years from now! BART serves more than 300,000 people every day. AC transit serves over 200,000 daily. And to say that the ferry was the most popular mode of transit during Spare the Air is disingenuous. It’s true that the ferry had the largest percentage increase in ridership, but that’s easy to do when you have no riders to begin with. In terms of actual numbers of new riders, BART attracted twice as many new commuters than the ferry.

    Furthermore, the ferry is hardly a shining example of energy efficiency.

    Yes, at $12/day round trip, the ferry is too expensive to serve as a practical transit alternative for most commuters. But given the extremely limited number of people the ferry will ever serve, I can’t see how subsidizing their commute at the expense of more efficient transit options could reasonably considered a wise decision.

  2. Leslie Stewart Says:

    I wonder if V Smoothe has looked at BART fares recently, before making the comment about $12/day round trip prices on the ferry. My Concord/Oakland round trip is over $6/day, and there are plenty of people who commute farther on BART who pay $10/day or more.

    We can look at efficiency, fare-box recovery, etc for more meaningful comparisons — but then we still need to factor in the value of having diverse options for people who live in very different situations, plus redundancy which has a value of its own in emergencies.

  3. V Smoothe Says:

    If you want to compare ferry/BART fares, you need to compare the fares to travel the same route. A BART trip from downtown Oakland to downtown San Francisco costs a little over $5 round trip, while the ferry costs $12 to travel the same distance. The ferry also affords an incredible lack of destination options, severely limiting the number of people for whom the service will ever be useful.

    The ferry is an inefficient use of transit resources. It serves an amazingly small number of riders, most of whom are not transit-dependent, offers an extremely limited and inflexible service, pollutes the air and water, and costs a fortune.

  4. Guy Span Says:

    Just one more. It’s about Bay Area signs. This article attempts to decypeher the misleading signs found at the Ferry Building, on board ferries and nearby.

  5. Guy Span Says:

    It is irritating when folks can’t get their facts correct. While technically the $12 round trip is correct, it’s just not a fare option anyone with a high, two-digit IQ might select. Here are the alternatives (from the site for Alameda Oakland Ferry).:

    “Discount Ticket Booklets
    There are three types of ticket books, offering commuters and frequent riders extra convenience and savings.

    10-Ticket Book (yields 5 roundtrip rides) $45.00
    20-Ticket Book (yields 10 roundtrip rides) $80.00
    40-Ticket Book (yields 20 roundtrip rides) $150.00

    40-ticket book tickets are only valid within month purchased. Commuter checks can be used for the purchase of discount ticket booklets. ”

    Note that both the 10 and 20 ticket books do not expire and both contain a free transfer from AC and Muni. BART has an AC Transit transfer program but MUNI (the largest transit provider) is left out (well, $0.25 discount). Thus, for the thinking person, the spurious $12 fare is overstated.

    Then we talk about fare box recovery ratios. If you bother to peek behind the scenes, you will find that MTC ignores depreciation in comparing ratios. Thus asset heavy systems like BART look good compared to asset light (no right of way costs) systems like ferries. BART recently gained a $900 million bond to upgrade things and wants another $4 billion. So depreciation represents real money. But under a highly artificial yardstick, ferries appear unproductive.

    It’s merely a question of designing the rules for a planned result. The fact that so many people are incapable of reading an annual report (BART comes to mind) results in folks who believe what they think they have heard. In no way is this comment to be BART bashing, just to make folks aware that we are comparing apples to oranges.

    For a full (and hopefully amusing) discussion of depreciation and related transit issues, I would direct you to:

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