A ferry route launched in January from Richmond to San Francisco was expected to bring a steady stream of riders.
Instead, it brought a tide.
The new San Francisco Bay Ferry route met its ridership goals six years early, netting an average of 688 daily boardings when it launched, and upwards of 740 daily boardings in the last two months. The agency’s projected ridership was roughly 480 daily boardings.
That’s according to data provided to the San Francisco Examiner by the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which runs the SF Bay Ferry service. It’s especially good news for Bay Area commuters as BART trains continue to see riders rolling into San Francisco shoved-in shoulder to shoulder as the local economy bursts at the seams, transit officials said.
“BART is packed, the roads are clogged, and the water is an underutilized resource,” said Elaine Forbes, executive director of the Port of San Francisco, where the Richmond ferry lands and departs from in The City. “Ferries should be an essential part of the public transportation system.”
She added, “as the region grows, we just need alternatives.”
And those alternatives are coming. In 2016, the water authority’s board approved a major expansion to increase its fleet from 16 vessels to 44, to ultimately increase their ridership five-fold by 2035, anticipating millions of more Bay. That’s seen the water authority invest $465 million in new ferry assets, from new terminals and maintenance facilities to brand new vessels.
As part of that expansion, the water authority also partnered with the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and the city of Richmond to build the Richmond Ferry Terminal to the tune of $20 million.
The data shows it paid off — literally. The boon in ridership is a boon to the water authority’s coffers which may be used down the line to fund future expansions in ferry service from Richmond, pending decisions by local authorities.
Thomas Hall, a spokesperson with the water authority, cautioned that some of their early ridership projections were conservative, and said the ridership boon was signaled right before the Richmond to San Francisco ferry service launched January 10.
“The response from the community was really strong” prior to launch, Hall said.
But whether it the water authority saw it coming or not, the ridership boon is likely helpful to those driving and on BART. Some informal survey data conducted by the water authority show one-fifth of Richmond ferry riders used to drive alone to San Francisco. Now they skip across the water each morning, potentially easing congestion on local freeways.
And “quite a few” of those new ferry riders used to hop aboard BART, too, Hall said.
“Anecdotally, we hear from BART riders at Berkeley that it used to be standing room only [when trains would arrive],” he said, but now some folks are able to better find a seat on trains heading in from Richmond.
While all the data and dollar signs show sunny outcomes for Richmond’s ferry service, there are less substantive advantages to riding ferries, too. Some anonymous ferry rider comments collected by the water authority show another reason to hop aboard — enjoyment.
“Taking the ferry has reduced my stress level more than I can tell you,” one rider wrote.