from Bay Crossings

Volume 1, Number 2
February 2000

A Berkeley Ferry: Is It Feasible?
By Michael H. Fajans

(Note: this material is edited from the 1999 San Francisco Regional Ferry Plan Update, prepared for MTC by Pacific Transit Management Corporation)

The 1992 Regional Ferry Plan prepared for MTC evaluated 17 potential new ferry routes throughout the Bay Area. Of the potential new routes, four stood out as the most feasible and were recommended to receive further analysis. The 1999 San Francisco Bay Area Regional Ferry Plan Update re-evaluated three of these potential routes - the fourth (Alameda Harbor Bay Island to San Francisco) has been implemented. Once again, a ferry from Albany or Berkeley to San Francisco stood out as a route with a high potential for successful transit service.

The proposed route would operate between Berkeley and San Francisco. The Regional Ferry Plan investigated three sites: the Berkeley Pier, the Berkeley Marina, and the foot of Gilman Street near Golden Gate Fields. Distance is about six nautical miles (a nautical mile is 1.15 miles) from the pier, six plus miles from the marina, and just under seven nautical miles from Gilman Street. All terminals will require a dredged channel for approximately two nautical miles.

Terminal Location, Access, and Facilities

Terminal options described in the 1992 Regional Ferry Plan were considered in relation to the City of Berkeley=s adopted Waterfront Plan, the existing traffic conditions to and from the Berkeley waterfront, and the waterside constraints and opportunities.

Dredging would be needed for each option, to create a channel 10 feet deep at mean lower low water and about 75 feet wide. Dredging requirements, which would be somewhat higher at Gilman Street, have been reviewed with Bay Conservation and Development Commission staff that did not foresee conceptual problems. Some amount of maintenance dredging would be required, which would constitute ongoing maintenance expenditure.

In 1978-79 and 1989, emergency ferries operated from a terminal in the southeast corner of the marina -- at the intersection of University Avenue and Marina Boulevard. This terminal has parking limitations, with much of the paved area used for parking for existing uses. Operationally, ferries operate slowly within the marina to prevent damage to other vessels and to limit wake.

While the Berkeley Pier was historically used for ferry service, it is now used for fishing and recreational uses that would be incompatible with ferry service. The distance from available parking would also be more than 500 yards. At Gilman Street, automobile parking could be accommodated on the existing Aoverflow@ parking for Golden Gate Fields, south of Gilman. Each of the sites would require a new floating dock and gangway to operate ferry service.

Waterfront Plans. Berkeley is currently updating its Marina Master Plan. The document will recommend and plan for upgrading and enhancing existing facilities, trails, signage and boating facilities. The current Berkeley Waterfront Plan calls for limited development throughout the area. Specifically, the policy calls for development only in parcels adjacent to Gilman Street. However, much of the Berkeley Marina privately owned property is being purchased by the East Bay Regional Park District on behalf of the State Park System B to be included in the Eastshore State Park. The Park District expects to also develop a master plan for the property it is purchasing but has not yet initiated such a study due to a lack of funding.

Traffic and Access Issues. Of the three sites, the Berkeley Pier and the marina have the same access routes, while Gilman Street serves a slightly different catchment area and has different access.

Marina/Pier Access. Primary access is via University Avenue and West Frontage Road, and the I-80 interchanges at University and Ashby Avenues. University Avenue, the primary access route to a marina/pier terminal, has generally poor levels of service in both peaks, but the afternoon period is worse than the morning. University Avenue westbound traffic on weekends exhibits especially poor conditions. The marina is well served by AC Transit with Line 51M operating every 20 minutes during weekdays.

Gilman Street Access. Primary access is via Gilman Street. The Gilman Street I-80 interchange provides direct access from vehicles entering and exiting I-80 in both directions. There is currently no transit service to the proposed Gilman Street ferry terminal, although AC Transit Lines 9 and 52 operate within a few blocks of the site.

Market Potential

The model, when analyzing other routes, predicted a 25 percent increase in patronage as service levels doubled, and 50 to 60 percent patronage increase as service levels tripled. Using these same formulas results in the patronage shown below.

On racetrack days, total patronage could be 1,500 to 1,600 passengers with peak trips every 20 minutes. The basis for the model=s predictions is the 1990 census data, which while several years old is still the most useful information available and is consistent with MTC's current Berkeley to San Francisco work trip estimates. Peak period patronage is assumed to be primarily composed of North Berkeley and Albany origins, with some Richmond and El Cerrito residents also likely to use the service.

It would appear that based on the existing transportation market, ferry service could be competitive. Ferries would travel to San Francisco in about 20 minutes, compared to 25 minutes from North Berkeley BART and 29 minutes from El Cerrito Plaza. Bus travel times range from about 25 to 30 minutes from various areas of Albany and North Berkeley. When access times are included, all the modes have about the same travel time to San Francisco.

After the Loma Prieta earthquake, the Berkeley ferry carried up to 500 passengers during the morning commute period and about 1,600 passengers daily with a 22 trip schedule. However, when the Bay Bridge reopened, patronage fell to about 500 to 700 trips daily, and then to 400 to 500 trips daily. As a result, the Berkeley ferry was eventually discontinued. The slow speed of the emergency service (12 knots) and travel time (45 minutes) provided a poor model of what ferry service could be with high-speed vessels and a visible terminal.

With its outstanding freeway access and potential large parking lot, a Gilman Street ferry terminal could also be used to provide service to Treasure Island for both the permanent development at the site and for special events, and to China Basin for Giants baseball games and special events. Recent special event ferry service to Treasure Island overwhelmed parking capacity at Jack London Square, so a second convenient ferry terminal in the inner East Bay with parking capacity would be beneficial.

Vessel Type

The short six to seven mile route length between Berkeley and San Francisco requires a vessel to travel at approximately 25 knots (about 30 mph). Increasing speed to a 30 knot vessel (35 mph) would only shorten the sailing time by about three minutes. There is a large fuel consumption penalty associated with higher speed vessel operation which is not warranted given the small time differential associated with higher speed on this potential route.

There are several satisfactory vessel types and the vessel selected depends upon service frequency and demand. Should an hourly service be recommended, then one 250 passenger catamaran would be an appropriate selection. This could be a vessel such as the M.V. Bay Breeze, a 29 meter 25 knot vessel now used on the Harbor Bay Isle route. Such a vessel would cost about $4-4.5 million. Another alternative is the purchase of several 150 passenger vessels. This would allow more frequent service. Under this scenario, either catamarans or fast monohull vessels could be purchased.

Financial Analysis

Different service alternatives were considered for a Berkeley/Albany ferry. One scenario anticipates one 250 passenger vessel providing hourly service to San Francisco. Another scenario anticipates 30 minute service frequencies using two 150 passenger boats. A third scenario anticipates 20 minute service in the peak periods, with 30 minute service in the off-peak. As service increases, patronage increases, but so do costs.

While the project planning stage would determine the appropriate level of service, for this analysis it is assumed that the most expensive capital plan would be used, requiring the purchase of three 25 knot, 149 passenger vessels costing $3-3.5 million each. In addition, terminal facility costs, including dredging, docks, gangways and parking improvements, are projected at about $4 million. This does not include the purchase of land for the terminal and parking lot, assuming it would be provided by the property owner or State Park. Approximately $1.5 million is allocated for planning, design, and contingency. Thus, total capital costs would be approximately $15.5 million.

This analysis assumes a fare of $3.50 and hourly operating costs ranging between $325 and $400 (crew, fuel, insurance, management, etc.). The results indicate that hourly service would require a subsidy of about $590,000 annually, 30 minute service would require a subsidy of about $1.3 million annually, and peak service every 20 minutes would require a subsidy of about $1.6 million annually.


Both the Berkeley and Albany City Councils have expressed interest in planning, developing, and implementing ferry service. This route has the potential to be one of the most used maritime services on the Bay with 1,200-1,600 passengers daily (weekdays) if it is provided with a visible location, good access and supportive adjacent land uses. While there is currently no operating funding available, current Bay Area initiatives may result in more funding opportunities. Since the Berkeley project is planning intensive, work should start immediately on all the planning aspects that are required.

An early key step is the nomination of a project sponsor, which could include the City of Berkeley, AC Transit, the East Bay Regional Park District, or some other entity.


Terminal Location. Gilman Street is the preferred site for a Berkeley/Albany ferry terminal. While traffic conditions can be congested both on University Avenue and Gilman, the latter provides better access and serves a catchment area that is not well-served by BART. While there is some concern among residents and decision makers that a Gilman ferry terminal could increase traffic on the residential section of Gilman Street between San Pablo and Hopkins, it is also likely that much of the ferry-related traffic will simply be diverted from current drivers, with little net increase in overall traffic.

Gilman Street ferry terminal could be served by several reroutings and extensions of AC Transit service. Among the options are a rerouting of Line 9 from Sixth Street to a terminal at Gilman. Line 52 could be rerouted to serve the ferry terminal by operating between University Village and the Berkeley campus via Gilman and the terminal. Line 43 trips could also be modified to serve the ferry terminal.

Next Tasks. This analysis indicates that ferry services from the Berkeley/Albany area could be successful with the implementation of supporting developments in the waterfront area (e.g. hotel and commercial development proposed for the Gilman Street area) and with the expansion of recreational docking facilities and destinations to boost overall ridership.

Therefore, it is recommended that the Cities of Berkeley and Albany and East Bay Regional Park District jointly integrate their waterfront planning (including Berkeley's Waterfront Plan update and the EBRPD's Eastshore State Park Plan) with implementation planning for ferry service at the Gilman Street location. With regard to the ferry service, the planning should at a minimum address the following:

-- compatibility of ferry service (terminal facilities, parking, etc.) with planned developments in the waterfront area;

-- landside access improvements to the Gilman Street location, including parking facilities and improved circulati

-- provision of connecting bus service;

-- environmental impacts on the waterfront area, including dredging impacts