Private commuter ferries return to Berkeley Marina

Laura Oda/Courtesy
Commuters board the San Francisco Bay Ferry at the Alameda Main ferry terminal for a trip to San Francisco in Alameda, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016. Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) expects ridership to grow sixfold and plans to triple its fleet and more than double the number of routes it operates. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

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Private commuter ferries are cruising back to the Berkeley Marina and parts of the Bay Area, after the California Public Utilities Commission approved two private ferry companies Thursday to help solve traffic congestion in the Bay Area.

Tideline Marine Group and PROP SF — two private water taxi operators in the Bay Area — will soon provide daily ferry services for the general public from Berkeley and Emeryville to San Francisco and Redwood City. Tideline operations will begin within 30 days at the Berkeley Marina and PROP SF plans to start in December or January.

“We see ourselves integrating (our services) into public transportation … giving residents and commuters another alternative for getting to homes and destinations around the Bay Area,” said Nathan Nayman, president of Tideline Marine Group. “Instead of having to go to BART Downtown, come over to the marina.”

Ferries have a long history in the Bay Area and were once an integral part of transportation, serving as one of the only forms of commuting across the bay in the late 1800s and early 1900s. With the opening of the Bay Bridge, however, ferry commute services began to die out, according to Randy Rentschler, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Today, tourists are still ferried across the bay on public boats as a “sweet” recreational mode of transportation. But recent traffic congestion has sparked a reemergence of interest in adding ferry service as a form of commuting as well, Rentschler said.

PROP SF’s boats are designed to be “romantic,” nimble commuter vessels, said founder and CEO James Jaber, with boats working “in tandem” with the current ferry system. PROP SF ferries will have the potential to move 750 people every day and take fewer than 15 minutes, Jaber said.

“As we grow, we can ease some of that cloggage and crowding and open up more capacity,” Jaber said. “The vote on Thursday was a big win, not just for (PROP SF), but for the residents of the entire region.”

The additional ferry services, however, might not provide the relief of traffic congestion in the Bay Area the water taxi operators hope for, Rentschler said.

“For those that can take the ferry, it’s great — they don’t have to be in that crowded place or in their car,” Rentschler said. “But for the whole Bay Area, it’s not that meaningful. … (Ferries) won’t relieve the congestion on the Bay Bridge (because) the numbers are too small.”

The average daily ridership of all ferries would be about 2,500 people, compared to one BART train, which can carry 1,500 people. Rentschler said ferries aren’t a means to solve the problem but rather are a result of the problem.

“Every little bit helps for individuals, but we are not going to solve the congestion (of) the Bay Area,” Rentschler said. “Should the (ferry) ridership build up, we might want to serve it. … But we don’t know, we’ll have to let it play out.”

Contact Gibson Chu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @thegibsonchu.