Some San Francisco ferries could stop running to Angel Island and Tiburon

Blue & Gold Fleet says declining revenue, increasing operating costs make routes untenable

Blue & Gold Fleet, which runs ferry trips between San Francisco and nearby destinations, could soon discontinue passenger service from The City to Angel Island and Tiburon.

The company submitted a request to stop running these routes to the California Public Utilities Commission on Sept. 10, citing a significant decline in ticket sales and revenues on passenger trips over the last few years combined with steep rises in operating costs.

“Without discontinuing passenger transportation, Blue & Gold Fleet, L.P. would be operating at an increasingly significant operating loss,” according to the public notice released earlier this month.

Spokesperson Sue Muzzin told the Examiner these service cuts were being considered even before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the economic fallout has “just exacerbated it.”

Muzzin said the ferries have been losing riders for years.

The ferries carried a total of approximately 130,000 passengers to/from Angel Island and 75,000 passengers to/from Tiburon in 2019. Those numbers marked a 12 percent and 30 percent decline, respectively, from the year prior.

The Public Utilities Commission oversees a broad range of services and utilities across the state, including ferry transportation. As such, its approval is required for Blue & Gold to move forward with the discontinuance, a process whereby an administrative law judge issues a proposed decision that is then voted on by the commission itself.

Administrative Law Judge Hallie Yacknin will oversee the case, charged with determining whether it’s “reasonable and in the public interest” to authorize the discontinuance.

Yacknin told the applicants in a pre-hearing conference on Nov. 6 that she will need to determine if the routes are being operated at a loss — which Blue and Gold say they certainly are — and whether the opportunity for a public agency to subsidize these routes to keep them afloat has been discussed.

She also plans to evaluate the consequence to the public if they no longer have access to these routes.

“We believe there is little impact,” Muzzin said, noting there is another ferry company that runs vessels from Tiburon to San Francisco and Angel Island is accessible from Tiburon or by private water taxi.

Another key component of the Public Utilities Commission’s duties is to evaluate the potential environmental impact of this sort of change. Namely in question, in this case, would be what would happen to the three docking facilities Blue & Gold Fleet uses for these two routes and whether any potential demolition or renovation would have an impact on the surrounding elements.

The company owns docks at Pier 41 and Tiburon.

Pier 41 would continue to be used by the company for service between San Francisco and Sausalito as well as routes for the public agency, San Francisco Bay Ferry, for which the company is the contract operator.

The dock in Tiburon is also used by the Golden Gate Bridge Highway District, and the ferry company foresees allowing that to continue which would not require any changes to the dock itself.

Blue & Gold doesn’t own the dock on Angel Island, so they’d continue to be used for other transport services as needed by the state.

Next up is a formal hearing process before the judge. Her decision, along with any alternate proposals put forth by members of the commission, will be discussed and voted on in a public meeting in the coming weeks.

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