|Support Ferry Service in
February 25, 2006
The following story from yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle notes that “91 percent of Bay Area residents surveyed in a Bay Area Council poll, released today, supported the idea of expanding the regional ferry system to help move people, emergency supplies and merchandise if another big quake closes bridges, freeways and BART.”
Richmond has long been considered as a terminal location for an expanded ferry system, but it is important that the City of Richmond make future ferry service a public policy priority and to clearly communicate this to the Water Transit Authority and to the rest of the Bay Area. The attached resolution will be on the City Council agenda for February 28, 2006.
What can you do? Press “reply to all” and communicate to your City Council members that you support ferry service in Richmond and this resolution.
The Bay Area's small fleet of ferries carries less than one percent of the region's commuters, but it came to the rescue in the hours and weeks after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.
Given the role ferries played in the evacuation and recovery effort, it's little surprise that 91 percent of Bay Area residents surveyed in a Bay Area Council poll, released today, supported the idea of expanding the regional ferry system to help move people, emergency supplies and merchandise if another big quake closes bridges, freeways and BART.
And 73 percent rated expansion of the regional ferry network a high priority for spending state and federal transportation funds, given their potential importance in an emergency.
"I think people realize what's at stake here,'' said Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council, a San Francisco business and public policy group that supports an expanded regional ferry system.
"The water may be the best way to get people out of devastated areas, get people to hospitals and to move emergency supplies and goods,'' he said. "But we need to have the boats and the places to land them.''
The Bay Area Council, at the behest of state Sen. President Pro Tem Don Perata, has formed a task force to study what it would take to prepare an emergency ferry service for the region. It will complete a report for the Legislature by April 15, with hopes of getting financing included in a statewide infrastructure funding plan.
For many of the tens of thousands of commuters stranded in San Francisco after the earthquake struck on Oct. 17, 1989, ferries that ran extra hours were their way home. And while the bridge underwent a monthlong repair, temporary ferry services sprang up around the bay using hastily erected docks and ferries borrowed from Seattle and Southern California.
While the Bay Area has had 16 years to get ready for the next big earthquake, and scientists say there is a 2 in 3 chance of a major temblor in the next 30 years, the poll found that 48 percent of 600 residents surveyed in nine counties believe the region is not sufficiently prepared.
"Not putting ferries on the bay for disaster recovery, with full knowledge of the threats,'' said Wunderman, "is like New Orleans not strengthening its levees, knowing that the hurricane was on its way.''
But the Bay Area is preparing its transportation system, particularly between San Francisco and the East Bay. The west span of the Bay Bridge has been bolstered to withstand a major earthquake, the new $6.3 billion east span is under construction and a $1 billion strengthening of BART's Transbay Tube is under way. In addition, the San Mateo, Richmond-San Rafael, Carquinez and Benicia-Martinez spans have been retrofitted, and seismic work is ongoing at the Golden Gate Bridge.
"Having a flexible system like we do have in the Bay Area -- highways, BART, ferries, buses -- doesn't just play out well every day, it plays out well in an emergency,'' said Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area's transportation planning and financing agency. "Ferries performed well in the last earthquake, and a stronger ferry system would perform even better in the next earthquake.''
The Bay Area's limited ferry system -- service between San Francisco and Oakland/Alameda, Sausalito, Larkspur, Tiburon and Vallejo -- is expanding.
When voters approved Measure 2, raising the toll on state-owned bridges to $3, they funded two new ferry routes, now in the planning stages at the San Francisco Bay Water Transit Authority. Service from South San Francisco is scheduled to begin in 2008, with a ferry from Berkeley taking to the bay in 2010.
The Water Transit Authority is also studying new ferry services to San Francisco from Treasure Island, Richmond, Hercules, Antioch/Martinez, and Redwood City. Those services, if backers can find funding, could pull away from the docks by 2012.
But the Bay Area Council would like to see that growth occur more quickly and spread to even more landings around the bay, including the North Bay and South Bay.
"It makes perfect sense,'' said Russell Hancock, president of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a policy group, and former vice president of the Bay Area Council in 1999, when it unveiled a plan to float a fleet of 70 ferries serving 28 landings around the bay. ''We have this 'ginormous' body of water, and you'd think it would be crisscrossed with ferries.''
While they have a rich history in the Bay Area, ferries play a small role in the transportation system, and have suffered ridership decreases, fare increases and service cuts in recent years. About 2.9 million passengers a year ride the Bay Area's ferries, compared with 8 million that ride San Francisco's cable cars. San Francisco Muni carries 217 million riders a year with BART hauling 98 million.
"Ferries are not well-ridden because there aren't enough of them, and they aren't frequent enough,'' Hancock said -- adding that it will "cost a lot of money'' for a fleet of ferries that "really work and function for commuters."