Notes from the first WTA Berkeley Ferry Workshop


Berkeley Yacht Club

November 6 2003


Report by Paul Kamen




This first workshop began the public process for the siting the Berkeley ferry terminal and designing other aspects of the possible service between Berkeley and San Francisco.


While the purpose of a workshop should be to sound out local concerns and develop new ideas from stakeholders, this event was characterized by information flowing mostly from the WTA presenters to the public in attendance. WTA made their usual presentation and questions were asked and answered. Things only got interesting when some adversarial positions were established.


Most notable of these are the pro-Albany faction (represented by Jeri Holan and Linda and Tim Perry of the Berkeley/Albany Ferry Committee), and the anti-Albany faction led by Norman La Force of CESP and the Sierra Club. ("Albany" in this context includes the foot of Gilman and other racetrack locations on the Berkeley side of the boundary).


There will also be issues over how parking is handled, the fare structure, the frequency of service, and the extent to which non-automotive access is subsidized.


Siting options


This is the first obstacle to consensus that we need to overcome. Personally I'm on the Berkeley Marina side of this issue, although not for the same reasons as Norman, and with some qualifications. Please see for my evaluation of the most feasible sites.


To summarize: My first choice (and I believe the most economical by a large margin) is a terminal made by widening part of the fishing pier a few hundred feet from the pier entrance. This location would require very little or no dredging, it's right at the existing bus stop and central to the available parking resource. A small breakwater might be required (although historically, the ferries that used various Berkeley piers before 1957 did not have breakwater protection).


Second choice is a terminal on a new pier closer to Hs. Lordships restaurant, on the west side of the peninsula. This is further from bus stop and might require slightly more dredging or more pier construction.


Third choice is the east side of Hs. Lordships peninsula. This is in the inner part of the South Sailing Basin where there is much better protection from typical summer wind and wave conditions, would require dredging a short channel and probably adds a minute (and about 10% more fuel consumption) to the route. The South Sailing Basin is heavily used by recreational sailors, who would presumably also benefit from the dredged channel. (Close co-existence of ferries and windsurfers is demonstrated at Larkspur).


These are the three sites that the EIR should consider in detail.


The most important new information presented by WTA was from their ridership study: It finds that most of the ferry passengers will be drawn from the Berkeley-Albany-El Cerrito-Kensington area, with relatively few coming from points east via I-80.


This means that the major advantage of the Buchanan Street location - pulling southbound cars off the freeway before the 880-580 merge - is not a very important factor. Buchanan (behind the racetrack) and Gilman have other disadvantages: Both sites are about a mile farther from the SF Ferry Building (requiring 35% more energy to go 16% faster, if they keep to the same schedule) and also require a substantial amount of dredging. While it is debatable whether a ferry service transiting the waters of the Eastshore State Park would really cause any significant habitat disruption, the perception seems to exist in some circles that it would, and there will be strong opposition, presumably from CESP and local Sierra Club activists.


The time-line and the need for consensus


WTA also confirmed the time-line: Ferry service can start as early as 2007 if a number of pieces fall miraculously into place. More likely it will be 2009. But if the money is not committed by the end of 2009, Richmond moves ahead of Berkeley for new East Bay ferry service.




The Marina can accommodate approximately 600 additional cars for weekday commute hours in the area of Hs. Lordships or the fishing pier. These spaces include partial use of the parking areas at Hs. Lordships, along Seawall Drive, across the road from Skates, and the west side of the M-dock lot. Any more than 600 cars would probably have serious and rapidly accelerating negative effects on other Marina activities and businesses.


WTA's estimate is that 75% of ferry riders would arrive by cars. Allowing for carpools and "kiss-and-rides," this translates to a parking requirement of somewhat less than 75% of the number of riders. This seems optimistic, and we should probably allow for a higher proportion of parking demand.


WTA suggests 30-minute service during commute hours. For a 149-passenger ferry (the only economical size below 300 (see for background). Assuming five departures every weekday morning commute, parking load will be 560 spaces. The proposed ticket price is about $3.50. Actual cost to provide the service is about $6.50 per one-way trip.


There are a couple of problems with this scenario. The demand for 560 parking spaces is uncomfortably close to the Marina's limit. Also, the required subsidy of $3.00 per trip, while less than BART (much less if you include system capitalization) is more than the subsidy for trans-bay bus service. There are valid arguments that ferries should not be subsidized to any greater extent than other equally energy-efficient modes.


Both problems can be solved by raising the ticket price, reducing the subsidy and scaling back the service somewhat to reflect the modest closer-to-market-rate demand. (Unlike rail and road transit, ferry service has the advantage of not wasting infrastructure when frequency of service is reduced).


A parking fee of $2.00 has been suggested, but there are many reasons why this will not be feasible in the Berkeley Marina. Any parking fee for any Marina parking area would divert cars to adjacent free lots and seriously impact Marina businesses, park users, guests of boat berthers, fish boat customers, and participants in many other Marina-related activities that rely on free and available parking.


Alternatively, ferry riders who arrive by bus or bicycle should be entitled to substantial discounts. The economic incentive would be similar without compromising the easy access to recreation and commerce that we now enjoy.




One of the objections expressed at the workshop (and by Steve Geller in his letter to the Daily Planet, at is that there will be traffic congestion whenever a ferry arrives and 149 people all get in their cars and try to leave the Marina at the same time. This sounds like a valid concern until we look at the  numbers: A lane of traffic typically has a capacity of about 1500 cars per hour. With two lanes in each direction, lower University Ave. can handle 3000 cars per hour (although a signal and turn lanes will probably be needed at the intersection with West Frontage). Worst case, with a full boat and all 149 passengers driving, each ferry arrival only accounts for three minutes of road capacity.




The Waterfront Commission might be in a position to help develop consensus among City Councilmembers. We should consider recommending that the City of Berkeley advocate the following actions and policies to WTA:


1) Proceed with the EIR for the Berkeley Marina sites.


2) Consider a rate structure closer to market rate and a proportionately smaller scale service such that anticipated parking demand is limited to 500 spaces.


3) Avoid charging for parking, but offer deep discounts to encourage bus or bicycle access.


4) Express the City's interest in an accelerated time line for new ferry service.