Rise in Bay ferry popularity: Richmond service exceeds expectations

Ferry service to Richmond launched just five months ago. Officials say ridership has beaten all expectations, projections and prognostications. With this runaway success, replacing the Richmond ferry service that failed 19 years ago, we may have reached the mass transit tipping point. 

"We are seeing a point where people are deciding, they're not gonna drive anymore," said SF Bay Ferry System Spokesman Thomas Hall. 

The new Richmond Ferry is an unqualified success. "Far exceeded our estimate. We're up to just under 700 passengers since the launch. The last couple of months it's been closer to 750. We've had a couple of days where we've had near a thousand riders herein the first year," said Hall.

How ahead of projections is the Richmond run? "We're about where we expected to be in year six of our ridership projections," said Hall.

That's providing an additional 2,000 seats. Three more ferries are in construction, coming online in the next six to eight months. More and more people have done the math on the real numbers of riding versus driving. "That's a really big one for them; that they save time and money switching to transit," said Hall.

Yet another new ferry dock will come online at the Ferry Building early next year, adding to the two new gates recently built there.

A temporary dock will be set up for San Francisco's new Chase Arena to be followed by a permanent Mission Bay Terminal to support all the job growth there. A new, additional Alameda Ferry Terminal is scheduled to debut next year.

Berkeley, Treasure Island and Redwood City are being studied as prospective locations for future ferry service.

Even a hovercraft is being considered for service to and from San Jose necessary to ply the South Bay's shallow waters. 

Golden Gate Ferry spokeswoman Priya Clemens says during rush hours its seven ferries fill up.

"It seems like the secret is out finally. We're working towards expanding the number of trips that we can run and we are also looking at acquiring another vessel because we need that in order to keep up with demand," said Clemens.

Since peaking in the 1930s the era of ferries has come back to the Bay.

"Five or ten years ago, you might have been able to make it from downtown San Francisco into Marin in 45 minutes or so. Now, the ferry is gonna beat you every time," Clemens said.

On July first, Golden Gate Bridge tolls go up, $25 million of which will be used to improve ferry and bus transit.