East Bay commuters inching their way to the Peninsula every morning through bumper-to-bumper traffic will have an alternative come 2017. Last week, the California Public Utilities Commission voted to allow two private ferry companies, PROP SF and Tideline Marine Group, to operate scheduled public ferries from Berkeley and Emeryville to San Francisco and Redwood City. Tideline will actually begin limited service to San Francisco by the end of this month and expand as demand grows, but PROP SF plans to roll out their Redwood City routes by the first week of 2017.
In April, Redwood City’s Port Commission penned a letter to the Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority expressing disappointment that they had not included Redwood City in their long-term strategic plans for expanding their public ferry service. At the time, the WETA (the government agency tasked with expanding ferry service across the Bay Area) cited concerns that ridership in Redwood City would not be sufficient to make the program economically viable just yet. The ferries WETA currently operate from SF to the East Bay carry 300 passengers, and they rely heavily on rider fares to cover costs. Both Tideline and PROP SF operate much smaller vessels, ranging in size from 36-100 passengers, so they are less limited by ridership goals.
Take a look at the short video below showing one of Prop SF’s 36 passenger vessel:
and one of WETA’s much larger vessels:
WETA gave the Redwood City Port Commission a 7 point plan to follow in order to initiate service, part of which suggested that the city partner with a company like Google or Facebook to fund the program. Currently, both companies use small private ferry services to shuttle employees to Redwood City from the east bay, but there has been talk for some time that RWC could form a public/private partnership with Google to fund WETA’s expansion into RWC. That talk intensified when Google purchased about a million square feet of office space at the Pacific Shores Center near the Port of Redwood City back in 2014.
Even with a Google partnership, I’d imagine the introduction of Tideline and PROP SF into the equation has just cast further doubt on WETA’s future in Redwood City. They were already concerned about ridership, and now their 300 passenger vessels would have to compete for ridership with two other companies.