Water taxi service Tideline looks to expand operations in Berkeley

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Kevin Cheung/File

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Citing public transportation congestion in the Bay Area, Tideline Marine Group — a water taxi service operating out of the Port of San Francisco — is pushing the California Public Utilities Commission to allow the company to run its ferries from the Berkeley Marina to San Francisco on a regular schedule of times.

Tideline currently operates on a reservation-based system that only ferries passengers across the bay when there are a minimum of 10 passengers. If the PUC awards Tideline a common carrier certificate, it will run at consistent times, regardless of the number of passengers.

“We want to build a water highway,” said Taylor Lewis, founder and CEO of Tideline.Our service is operational right now, but we’re trying to redefine how waterfront transportation works.”

Taylor said he wants to integrate water transit services, such as the one Tideline offers, into the existing infrastructure of public transit. He emphasized the lack of an integrated transportation system in the Bay Area, noting how other ports work in conjunction with land-based services to create an easily navigable transportation scheme.

“(The ferry) is too out of the way and slower than taking BART,” said Jay Kim, a campus senior economics student. “Also most people don’t even know about it.”

Taylor said that the Bay Area, as a whole, lacks the waterfront services commonly available in most cities, which further congests roads and extends commute times, especially on the Bay Bridge. For commuters in the Bay Area looking for a regular ferry system, there are currently only two options — the Golden Gate and the San Francisco Bay ferry systems, which each carry 16,000 total passengers every weekday.

Jeff Vincent, deputy director at the campus’s Institute of Urban and Regional Development, said water transit is becoming increasingly valuable to improving access to public transportation in the Bay Area. As an example, he pointed to the fact that there is no BART stop at Jack London Square, where the Oakland ferry to San Francisco is located.

“The end connections are significant barriers for people,” Vincent said. “It’s more time and hassle, which deters people from taking public transit.”

Despite pressure from the community to improve public transportation accessibility, Tideline has been met with opposition by existing ferry services, such as the San Francisco Bay Ferry and the Blue & Gold Fleet, that rely on government subsidies to operate and are concerned about how a new waterfront taxi service may cut into the subsidies they receive.

According to Taylor, however, Tideline operates at such a small scale — its fleet currently consists of two boats and a maximum combined capacity of fewer than 100 passengers — that it does not expect to need government subsidies. He added that if the Water Emergency Transportation Authority allows Tideline to increase ferry access to Berkeley, other ferry services will soon follow once Tideline justifies the Berkeley market.

Contact Winston Cho at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @winstonscho.