Ferry Service is Coming Soon to the Harbor District

A ferry terminal at Oyster Point Marina is scheduled to open in 2011.

The following information was published in the July 2010 issue of the Urbanist and on the SPUR website.

In the event of a major earthquake Ferry Service would help transport people who currently use either BART or Bay Area bridges.

Image: Collapsed section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey
If most or all major rail and highway links are disrupted, especially from the East and North Bay, a major upgrade in ferry service would be required. All existing and possible temporary landings would be employed on all shores. We would need to:
  • Radically increase ferry service (additional docks would be needed, particularly at the downtown San Francisco Ferry Building)
  • Add new routes of service. Some options include Richmond, Benicia and Redwood City, to spread the passenger load to new docks along existing San Francisco to Oakland routes
  • Reroute bus lines from rail and highway networks to new ferry landings
  • Add non-Bay Area ferry boats 
Inventory existing ferry fleets, commercial fleets, and ferry fleets at nearby cities (Los Angeles, Seattle, and Vancouver), to assess whether each fleet would be able to adapt to current ferry landings. In the inventory, indicate a tier of different boat sizes and capacity.
Establish official disaster mutual aid agreements with other ferry operators so that the other ferry providers would be ready to offer some of their ferries to relieve the city in case of a disaster. Nearby boat and ferry agencies should be contacted first. Because some ferries may be seaworthy, cities at greater distances that would require an ocean journey for the ferry to reach the Bay Area also should be considered, but using ferries from some of these cities would present additional challenges:
  • Los Angeles
  • Seattle (nearby, but most ferries probably too big for docks in San Francisco)
  • Vancouver (nearby, but some ferries probably too big and others too small for docks in San Francisco)
  • In case of a catastrophic disaster in which most bridges collapse, other areas should be considered: New York City, Hong Kong, Sydney, Istanbul, Boston, Norway, Long Island Sound, Nova Scotia, Alaska
The main challenge with ferry systems outside the Bay Area is that many of their boats are either too small to travel long distances to San Francisco, or are too big for San Francisco and other Bay Area docks. For those with larger ferries, only long-term solutions like building more docks could allow large ferries such as those in Vancouver, Seattle and New York to function in San Francisco.
Consider preparing docks and ferry landings that could accommodate larger vessels. Many of the San Francisco piers may be able to take a large ferry, including the cruise ship terminal. However, such landings may not exist on other, smaller properties. Consider funding the development of new terminals as long as further ferry fleet development is environmentally smart and economically viable. The Water Emergency Transportation Authority would be in charge.
Inventory existing Bay Area landings: boat landings at marinas, ports and ramps that could be easily adapted for ferries, should be researched and developed. Some landings could be adapted ahead of time, while others could be altered after a disaster to accommodate water taxis and larger ferry vehicles.
Increase ferry service where necessary
Caltrans, VTA
Consider adding water taxi services where possible and economically viable. Ferry landings could be added at sites that may not normally be viable for regular ferry services but would be critical in a disaster.
Reroute bus services to ferry landings if many or most links are disrupted. Ferry landings will also need large parking lots nearby and shuttle service from the parking lots to the ferry landing. Such parking lots include shopping centers, racetracks, empty lots, parks and universities.
Caltrans, MTC, local government
Source: SPUR analysis