Richmond ferry completes maiden voyage to San Francisco, commuters aboard
By Rachel Swan - San Francisco Chronicle, January 10, 2019
The first boat left the dock at 6:10 a.m. Thursday, but passengers were trotting down the gangway at Richmond’s new ferry terminal long before then.
One hundred sixty-one riders were aboard the Pisces when it slid away from the pier, the first high-speed catamaran of a transit service that west Contra Costa residents have anticipated for years. Officials expect the 225-person capacity boat to fill up during rush hour as word spreads.
“I’ve been counting down the days,” said David Huckabay of Hercules, who normally drives Interstate 80 to get to his office in the Embarcadero area — a slog that can take up to two hours.
He’s among the commuters whose lives could be transformed by the ferry, which glides from Richmond’s shoreline to downtown San Francisco in 35 minutes.
The new terminal is a sharp, steel and glass box next to the Craneway Pavilion, its architecture redolent of the old Ford assembly plant that operated during the Great Depression and into the 1950s. For now, it will run six boat trips from Richmond and six from San Francisco each weekday.
Officials at the Water Emergency Transportation Authority hope to beef up service, but they are waiting for the outcome of a lawsuit against Regional Measure 3, the series of bridge toll hikes that voters passed in June to raise money for Bay Area transit.
The measure would invest $300 million into new ferry infrastructure and $35 million annually to support operating costs, enough to double the region’s water transit capacity in the coming years and ease pressure on jammed freeways. But that money is sitting in escrow as lawmakers await the outcome of a July lawsuit by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which claims Measure 3 enacted a tax that needed a two-thirds threshold to pass — significantly more than the 55 percent support it drew from voters.
If the measure holds, the water transportation authority will quickly expand the number of boats coming from Richmond, said agency spokesman Thomas Hall. The new terminal would add to a ferry renaissance that’s blossomed in the Bay Area: Over the past six years, the number of passengers has doubled at Water Emergency Transportation Authority terminals in San Francisco, Vallejo, Oakland, Alameda, South San Francisco and Mare Island — from 1.4 million in 2012 to an estimated 2.9 million by the end of last year.
“We’re hoping to increase as soon as possible and be open on weekends by next summer,” Hall said, standing outside the terminal to greet commuters Thursday.
Several people who showed up for opening day — some nattily dressed for jobs in the Financial District, others wearing bicycle helmets or sneakers and sweats — said they would happily take the ferry on a regular basis.
“Oh, I’m very excited about this,” said Jacqueline Harris, whose family has lived in Richmond for generations. Her grandfather worked at a lumber yard building ships in the 1940s, and her grandmother toiled nearby in a cannery.
Harris marveled at how much the shoreline has changed in recent decades, as wine bars and restaurants bloom in the husks of old warehouses. It’s a still-jagged revitalization that Richmond Mayor Tom Butt hopes will accelerate now that the new terminal is open. New housing is planned for a weed-choked lot at Marina Way South, which could hold as many as 600 units.
Butt was aboard the 6:10 a.m. boat, along with several City Council members and others from City Hall.
“There were a lot of us along for the ride, but I was amazed at the number of actual commuters,” the mayor said in an interview Thursday afternoon. “People are using this to commute, and that bodes well.”
The mood was festive as the Pisces crawled out of the channel, past the houses at Point Richmond and near Alcatraz Island, where it enjoyed a short burst of speed before pulling into the port at the Embarcadero.
By 6:30 a.m. more customers had thronged outside the terminal, 40 minutes before the next boat was scheduled to leave. The air was cold and prickly, the sea a crinkled black tarmac. Cars were filling the parking lot’s 352 spaces as AC Transit’s 74 bus puttered in every half hour, carrying riders from the Richmond BART station.
Pam Hyland and Buzz Baylis grinned and clutched their coffee cups. The two retirees from Point Richmond recalled the city’s last attempt at a ferry service in 1999: it sputtered within a year after averaging 50 passengers a day.
“Publicity was scant,” said Hyland, who was among the few devoted riders back then.
She and Baylis awaited the 7:10 a.m. vessel as a sunless dawn frothed on the horizon. The boat departed with 105 aboard.