Bay Area ferry ridership up 72%, service expanding

With Bay Area ferry ridership up 72% and growing fast, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) is racing to keep up with demand. 

WETA dedicated a new North Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility on Vallejo's Mare Island Wednesday. This facility underscores the growing importance of the Bay Area's growing ferry fleets for passenger service, first responder transportation in disasters and post disaster recovery.

"We have a very definitive plan to build out not only the capacity of the ferries, but to make sure that they safely run, that we maintain them and that we fulfill our responsibility for emergency response," says Jody Breckenridge, Chairwoman of  the Water Emergency Transportation Authority.

After any emergency, from earthquakes to major road or bridge blockages to transit strikes, the Bay provides excellent transportation paths, provided ferries are in good working order and plentiful.

"We already have seven boats that are in progress or have been approved for development." says Ms. Breckenridge.

Captain Chuck Ellis, who has been in the ferry service for 36 years says,

"This boat holds 349 passengers. The new Vallejo Ferry is gonna hold 450 passengers. So, bigger, faster and adding more boats to the service."

Some new boats will be built for different types and locations of commutes, as well as for varying water depths.  Some will use a different power sources other than diesel. In the last four years, ferry passengers counts are up 72%.

"You're looking at a 4 boat schedule now; four boats and we pack them on and there's overflow. We could use another two boats.”

A similar facility is under construction in Alameda for the small ferries and facilities at the Ferry Building are also being expanded. With the new repair and maintenance facility the crews can work on more parts of the boats more often, including these 11-foot long engines, which they can repair quicker and for far less expense.

"I see ferries all over the Bay, all over the Bay in different places and it's gonna be incredible," says Captain Ellis.

Virtually every ferry passenger represents one less commuting car.