The Debate over SB 915 and SB 916

From the Berkeley Daily Planet:

Perata Floats Ferry Proposal

Berkeley ferry service moved one step closer to reality last week when state Sen. Don Perata (D-Oakland) released his long-awaited plan to fund a host of local transit projects with a $1 toll hike on seven Bay Area bridges, including the Bay Bridge. The plan, which must win approval from the legislature and Bay Area voters, would increase tolls from $2 to $3 in July 2004, pouring money into two new ferry routes one connecting South San Francisco to San Francisco, and the other running between San Francisco and a terminal in either Berkeley or Albany....

...Perry, of the Berkeley Ferry Committee, said commuter boats will be more than a way to get people to work: "Itís a way to get people out on the water and connected to this Bay that is such an important part of our lives. Their time has come."

Here is the full article from the Berkeley Daily Planet archives.

Letter in response to the Daily Planet article, appearing in the April 29 issue

Those who oppose ferry service from Berkeley to San Francisco are correct on one point: Ferries are not a cost- effective way to relieve traffic congestion. We have a bridge and a tunnel, and better use of these resources would be a better way to solve our traffic congestion problems.

But this does not mean that ferries don't have an important role to play. The real purpose of the Berkeley Ferry is to provide an attractive alternative to existing modes of transportation, and to address transportation problems that are not being met by other modes.

The remarkable thing about a new ferry service from the Berkeley Marina to San Francisco is that so much of the system is already in place. We have deep water right up to the east end of the fishing pier. We have at least 600 existing parking spaces, mostly unused during the week, in close proximity to the site. We have frequent bus service all day right to the site. And we even have an existing pier ready to serve as a ferry terminal with relatively inexpensive additions.

The distance is only 5.6 miles, and this is covered in only 20 minutes at 17-knots. By modern standards this is a relatively slow, economical and energy-efficient speed. (See the Berkeley Waterfront website at for more details of the Berkeley Pier low-speed ferry proposal.)

Is a ferry service elitist? The actual cost of moving a passenger from Berkeley to San Francisco by ferry is approximately $6.50, including capitalization of the boats and terminals. This is about the same as the actual cost of a BART ride. If the ferry is elitist, then so is BART. (And even BART is not an option for those who cannot walk or bike to a BART station after the parking lots fill up in the morning.)

Furthermore, ferries carry bicycles during commute hours, allow dogs on outside decks, and can seamlessly accommodate wheelchairs with no delay in service. This is not elitism, this is serving the mobility needs of a diverse community.

Will a Berkeley Ferry have negative environmental impacts? By the twisted logic of the Sierra Club, anything that accommodates parked cars is an environmental negative. Never mind that each car parked near the ferry replaces one that would have driven to San Francisco in heavy traffic. Never mind that travel by ferry enforces a non-automotive mode of transportation for at least one end of the trip. Never mind that the Berkeley Marina site has absolutely no effect on the Eastshore State Park. The Sierra Club is opposed, and it will take a significant show of local support to overcome this opposition.

The issue is not traffic congestion or air pollution. The issue is the quality of life in Berkeley. And the issue is mobility for people not served by existing public transit.

The Berkeley Ferry was once a valued public amenity for everyone who lived here and in nearby communities, and it can fulfill this role again.

Paul Kamen, naval architect.

Letter by Tom Brown, appearing in the May 5 Daily Planet

Editors, Daily Planet:

The wasteful ferry subsidies driving state Sen. Don Perata's proposed $3 bridge tolls are reason enough to ask Assemblywoman Loni Hancock to oppose Perata's related bills, SB 915 and SB 916. A ferry advocate quoted in your article ("Perata Floats Ferry Proposal," April 22-24) foresees subsidized fares on her chosen "yachts" that are "on par with the price of a BART ticket from Berkeley to San Francisco ... currently ... about $3." That's absurd. Ferry costs per rider are vastly higher than those of current BART trains or transbay buses. And ferries generate worse air pollution.

In Perata's scenario, we would lavishly subsidize the small and declining number of commuters who find ferries convenient, while denying funds to cleaner and more cost-effective transit options that can move many more people. That's right: Perata would provide not one cent to current bus and BART service, even though both are caught in a downward spiral of service cuts and fare increases. He wouldn't even fund the Bay Bridge's own seismic retrofit, which is essential but over budget.

Voters likely will approve only one toll increase in uncertain economic times. Yet Perata's approach would pre-empt that one increase, and permanently deny it to the projects that most need and deserve it.

Let's vote down this wasteful proposal (a favor to developers in Alameda who've long backed Perata) and reserve future toll increases for core transit services. To really get people out of their cars, for example, why not subsidize transbay bus and BART fares of $3 per round-trip, the same cost as motorists' bridge toll?

Ferry enthusiasts should retain the right to sip cocktails on their chosen "yachts." But amid a budget meltdown, it's only fair for them to pay the full costs, with no public subsidies. (In return, I won't ask bridge commuters to pay for my next Caribbean cruise.)

Tom Brown

Letter in response to Tom Brown, appearing in the May 9 Daily Planet

Editors, Daily Planet:

It would be easy to agree with Tom Brown's letter opposing ferry subsidies - if his numbers were accurate.

Mr. Brown states that ferry costs per rider are "vastly higher" than BART. This may have been true for some of the early proposals involving high speed ferries on long routes. But not for Berkeley to SF. Cost per passenger, including subsidy and capitalization, is estimated by the Water Transit Authority (and independently confirmed) to be about $6.50 per one-way trip. Compare to BART: The fare from Downtown Berkeley to the Embarcadero is $2.75, and after adding the $1.60 operating subsidy and the $3-and-change capitalization subsidy, we're well over $7 per ride. No wonder we have to finance BART with sales tax.

Brown also states that ferries cause more air pollution than competing modes. Again, he is using old data. The 1999 Bay Area Council study proposed a network of long high-speed ferry routes with no regard for emission controls, and was rightfully attacked by the environmental community for that omission. But this has little relation to the short routes and relatively low-speed vessels that would serve Berkeley. Our ferry would go less than half as fast and use less than one- quarter as much fuel per passenger mile. Let's compare apples to apples: Apply the same emission controls as for land-based vehicles, use the correct speed and distance, and we find that ferries are cleaner and more fuel efficient than busses or cars.

Whether the Berkeley Ferry is a "core transit service" is not the issue. Certainly there are more cost-effective ways to move people across the Bay, but to date we have not shown the political will to apply them.

Ferries do more than take cars off the bridge. Ferries enhance mobility for a very diverse group of people who are currently not being served by any form of public transit. This includes anyone who travels by bicycle during commute hours, anyone who travels with a dog, and anyone who wants to get to San Francisco after the BART parking lots fill up early in the morning and is unable to walk or bike to a station. And ferries can serve all of these users at a subsidy level that compares favorably with other modes. This is not waste, this is a good investment in the quality of life in Berkeley.

There are plenty of examples of wasteful transportation systems, and there are ferry routes, both proposed and existing, that would qualify. Let's not confuse these with what is being proposed for Berkeley, where the service will be clean, efficient and economical.

Paul Kamen, naval architect

Resolution by the Sierra Club Conservation Committee, to be considered by the Chapeter Excomm on Monday evening, May 12 2003

2003.04.02 Recommend Sierra Club California Oppose (unless amended) SB916

Whereas, State Senator Don Perata has proposed a $1 bridge toll increase;

And Whereas, the spending plan was significantly changed after community meetings in which Sierra Club and others participated in good faith (see more below);

And Whereas the Sierra Club has a long standing policy of supporting congestion pricing on bridge tolls and SB916 does not propose congestion pricing;

And Whereas several projects are either sprawl-inducing or auto-oriented or both;

And Whereas, several project descriptions mandate parking rather than promoting transit;

And Whereas a sizable amount of the proposed funds would go to fund cost-ineffective, possibly-environmentally damaging new ferry service that expends more energy than single occupant vehicle use (see more below),

Therefore, be it resolved,

That the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter recommends to the State Sierra Club an "Oppose, unless amended" position on SB916 (Perata).

Recommended Amendments:

This bill should:

1. Mandate or at least enable the Bay Area Bridge Authority to enact congestion pricing on bay area bridges;

2. It should mandate that no new ferry service will negatively impact wetlands or parks such as the Eastshore State Park, and that existing channels should be used;

3. Mandate and provide funding for a solar ferry from the Berkeley Marina site. This will help solve the energy comparison to SOV drivers problem, and will help provide more significant air quality improvement than otherwise;

4. Language which recommends adequate parking as the solution to transit access and ridership should be deleted;

5. Delete significantly auto-oriented and sprawl-inducing projects such as the I-80/I-680 interchange in Solano County which would actually add commuters to bay area bridges and encourage Solano County sprawl. This project was specifically deleted from the recommended projects which Bridge Toll Advisory Committee (on which Sierra Club had a representative) members reviewed, and was added as a seeming "pork barrel" project for Solano County after the Bridge Toll Advisory Committee was disbanded. New highway capacity on the Benicia Bridge and lack of any transportation gateway policies in the bill should also be addressed.

[Approved 9-0-0. CHAPTER PRIORITIES: Transportation and Anti-sprawl/Parks/Open Space.]

Response to the Sierra Club resolution

by Paul Kamen, May 12 2003

"The current ferry expansion project is being promoted not primarily as an amenity, but as a serious component of the Bay Area transportation system. It is on this basis that the Sierra Club has serious misgivings about the project."

(From a recent memo by the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.)

A good project, promoted for the wrong reasons, is still a good project. Note that the Water Transit Authority really has no choice here - their mandate is to design a system that will address transportation issues, even if this is among the least significant of the many reasons for having ferry service.

Although I am inclined to agree with the Sierra Club's basic assessment that the ferries will not significantly alleviate traffic congestion or improve air quality, there is still room for debate on these points. It is valid to look beyond the simple additive effects of a new transportation service, and instead compare to other future scenarios that meet the same mobility requirements. On this basis, it is hard to argue with the fact that a car parked at a ferry terminal pollutes far less than a car in stop-and-go traffic on the Bay Bridge, and that a relatively low-speed ferry can achieve extremely fuel-efficient operation using mature technologies. (Power loading per seat is in the range of four horsepower, about the same as a moped. See the preliminary concept design on the Berkeley Waterfront website).

Perhaps of more immediate importance to the Sierra Club, ferry service is extremely popular with both the Sierra Club constituency and with the public at large. Opposition to SB 915 and 916 on the basis of the ferry component of these bills could do a lot of damage to the standing of the Club in the communities which the ferry would serve.

To address several points in more detail:

1) The ferry is not sprawl-inducing

The two routes that would be funded by SB 915 and 916 are entirely within the urban core. They improve mobility to downtown San Francisco, and help maintain the viability of this single business and commerce focal point for the entire Bay Area. This is not sprawl-inducing; this is a big step against sprawl.

2) The ferry does not promote the use of cars

Most studies predict that about 80% of East Bay to SF ferry passengers will arrive at the terminal by car. While it is true that a viable ferry service requires parking, a parked car is not being "used" and does not cause air pollution or traffic congestion. The reality is that the majority of ferry passengers would drive all the way to their destination if the ferry were not available as an alternative.

Furthermore, a trip by ferry requires that one leg of the trip is by some non-automotive mode. That is, anyone driving to the ferry terminal must necessarily use public transportation to get to their final destination at the other end. So the net effect of ferry service is to increase the use of public transportation over private vehicles.

Ferries also promote compatible mixed modes: bicycles, electric scooters, and new technologies like the Segway. In a future that blends personal transportation devices with mass- transit efficiencies, ferries will play a vital role.

3) Ferries on the routes funded by SB 915 and 916 will not be environmentally damaging

These are relatively short routes that can be served by relatively low-speed ferries. Power is proportional to speed cubed, and a ferry only has to go 17 knots to cover the 6.5 miles from Berkeley to SF in 20 minutes. This requires one eighth the installed horsepower of a 34 knot ferry, typical of those now popular on longer routes. Provided the speed is low, fuel consumption and emissions are far less than cars and competitive with busses. Exotic design innovations are not required. This is easily achieved with mature technologies: low speed, long slender multiple hulls, and emission controls similar to those on land-based applications.

4) There will be no significant impact on the Eastshore State Park

This is especially true if the preferred terminal site at or near the entrance to the Berkeley Fishing Pier (or Hs. Lordships Restaurant) is selected. The route from this location to the San Francisco Ferry Building does not go anywhere near the waters of the Eastshore State Park, and requires little or no dredging. (Plus, there is sufficient existing parking in this area to support a moderate level of ferry service, and there is existing and frequent bus service.)

Even the required channel for a Gilman or Buchanan Street location would have minimal impact on wildlife habitat, as has been seen in other areas where habitat and ferry routes mix. Parking might detract from other possible land uses at the Gilman or Buchanan locations, but there is also a potential efficiency if the spaces serve park users on weekends and ferry passengers during the week.

5) The proposed ferry routes will be cost effective (in context)

It is recognized that ferries are not a cost-effective mode of transit when there is already and existing bridge and tunnel. But in the context of an actual cost for a one-way BART ride that exceeds $7, the projected $6.50 cost of a ferry ride is not out of line with existing public policy. Add to this the fact that the market supports significantly higher fares for ferry travel than for BART, so the required subsidy per trip is considerably less for the ferry.

It is also somewhat ironic to find advocacy of the Solar Ferry concept in the same document that criticizes conventional ferries for not being cost-effective. As noted above, the goals of high fuel economy and low emissions can be adequately addressed with existing and mature technologies. Also, the Berkeley-SF run is a predominantly upwind/downwind route, and as such is entirely inappropriate for a solar and wind-assisted vessel under anything resembling realistic economic constraints.

6) The proposed ferry routes will be fuel-efficient

The WTA tossed something of a softball to its detractors by using fast ferries for the energy analysis. Table 3.13.1 shows over 6,000 BTU per passenger mile for ferries, compared to 5,000 for cars and 660 for busses.

The high speeds and power levels assumed are unnecessary and inappropriate for the short routes proposed. The analysis assumes 8,000 HP for the 350 passenger ferries and 2,900 HP for the 149 passenger ferries. These estimates are based on existing designs optimized for speed, not fuel economy, with hull forms optimized for low construction cost.

I refer again to the preliminary concept design on the Berkeley Waterfront website. By Optimizing for low speed with long slender hulls, it is easy to show that an 18-knot 149-passenger ferry does not need to have more than 700 installed horsepower. This works out to 665 BTU/passenger mile, about the same as a bus. Assuming only 50% average passenger load, we are still at 1330 BTU/passenger mile, about four times as fuel-efficient as cars. This is the more valid comparison, because the ferry service competes with cars, not busses, for the majority of its riders.

Response to the letter by Tom Brown appearing in the May 23 Berkeley Daily Planet. This response appeared in the June 30 online edition, and a shorter version was published in the paper edition.

Apples to Apples

Editors, Daily Planet:

There is nothing conjectural about energy-efficient ferries, and there is no new technology required. The ferry boat "Berkeley," built in 1898, transported countless people across the Bay for 60 years at an energy rate of only 172 BTU/passenger mile. This approaches the efficiency of modern light rail, and was achieved with 19th Century technology (skeptical readers are invited to run the numbers for themselves; see

Keep in mind that car commuters are using over 5,000 BTU per passenger mile before attacking ferries on the basis of energy inefficiency or high emissions.

I must acknowledge that Tom Brown, in his letter opposing a new ferry service from Berkeley to San Francisco, has done his homework. He has verified with published reports that his facts regarding emissions and energy consumption are indeed correct. However, he has provided the correct answers to the wrong questions.

The studies he cites are based on three existing ferry routes: Vallejo, Larkspur, and Oakland/Alameda to San Francisco. The first two have almost no relevance to the present debate about the Berkeley ferry and other short routes that would be funded by a small fraction of the bridge toll increase called for by state senate bills SB 915 and 916.

The Vallejo catamarans (very fast, very long route, very energy intensive) and the aging Larkspur monohulls (operating far below their original design speed of 30 knots) are two of the three services used to derive the results in the CalStart paper on emissions that Mr. Brown cites as authoritative. Even the Oakland/Alameda analysis is based on a longer route and faster boats than are applicable to a Berkeley or Treasure Island ferry.

It's no wonder that averaging in those long routes and high speeds leads to a conclusion unfavorable to ferries. But our Berkeley ferry, with a 5.6 mile route from the Marina to the San Francisco ferry building, only needs to go 17 knots to cover this distance in 20 minutes.

Repeat the analysis with realistic speeds, and with a hull form optimized for energy efficiency instead of cheap construction, and it's easy to show that energy and emissions are an order of magnitude less than those assumed in the documents Tom Brown cites in his attack.

It is not clear why the Water Transit Authority tossed such an easy softball to its opposition by allowing an estimated energy consumption of over 6,000 BTU/passenger mile to go all the way through their EIR process. A quick conceptual design of a small ferry optimized for the Berkeley route (see places energy consumption at about 665 BTU/passenger mile, about the same as a transit bus.

Again, I must call upon Mr. Brown to compare apples to apples. Let's not throw away the opportunity to have a Berkeley Ferry that is clean and efficient, just because it is easy to find examples of other ferry services that are not.

Paul Kamen, naval architect.