Open Thread: Does it Make Sense to Add a Large Ferry Terminal at the Berkeley Pier?

Would it be better to run more ferries to areas without good transit options? Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Would it be better to run more ferries to areas without good transit options? Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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The old Berkeley Pier, seen in the image below, is certainly picturesque. But is it the right location for a ferry terminal that could cost $20 million?

The San Francisco Chronicle did a great piece last month on the history of the pier–and the possibility of creating a new ferry service from it to San Francisco, to be run by the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA).

Berkeley's old pier is in a pretty spot--but with basically no housing or jobs near it and a freeway cutting it off from the city. Is this really a good location for a major transit investment? Photo: City of Berkeley
Berkeley’s old pier is in a pretty spot–but with basically no housing or jobs near it and a freeway cutting it off from the city. Is this really a good location for a major transit investment? Photo: City of Berkeley

Some $360,000 would be needed to study the feasibility of constructing a terminal for large ferry boats. WETA would contribute $250,000, with the rest coming from the City of Berkeley. It ended up costing $20 million to construct the recently opened terminal at Richmond, so that’s probably the ballpark for the final construction costs.

But nearly all Berkeley residents are closer to BART or a transbay bus. And then there’s the little matter of Interstate 580, which effectively cuts off the pier from housing and jobs in Berkeley.

In fact, WETA’s own documents seem to argue against building a ferry terminal here:

…the current development patterns and the potential for development around the Berkeley terminal are not as supportive of regional goals for integration of land use and transportation. The Berkeley service has lower potential for walk-up and other multimodal access.

So it would likely end up another big park-and-ride location, which goes against many of WETAs stated sustainability goals.

“The nearest home to this proposed ferry terminal is over a mile away across a ten-lane freeway. Every single home in West Berkeley is nearer an AC Transit Transbay bus that comes more frequently, gets you to San Francisco faster, is cheaper to ride, cheaper to operate, and is less polluting,” wrote Nick Josefowitz, MTC Commissioner and WETA Board member, in an email to Streetsblog.

It’s also worth noting that a private, small-ferry service already provides trips to San Francisco from the Berkeley Marina, run by Tideline.

It seems the motivation for building a terminal here is because Regional Measure 3, which raised bridge tolls, provided $300 million for capital projects and up to $35 million in annual operating funds for expansion.

“Our region should be laser-focused on dramatically increasing service on the already overcrowded routes from Vallejo and Alameda/Oakland to San Francisco,  providing passengers with the basic level of station infrastructure so they don’t have to stand out in the cold, wind, and rain for thirty minutes a day, and funding more feeder bus services to existing ferry terminals for all those who want to ride today. Existing and new ferry routes have a key role to play in our region, but boondoggle ferry projects like this do not,” said Josefowitz.

WETA could also work on adding more direct services, such as between Larkspur (which will soon have a SMART train station) and Oakland (with its BART and Amtrak connection).

What do you think? Should WETA build a new terminal in Berkeley?

The WETA board is expected to vote on the Berkeley Pier issue Thursday, May 9th, at 1:30 p.m., at Pier 1, Port of San Francisco. You can also email the board at “contactus [at]”

  • Alexander Craghead

    Berkeley residents are near transbay busses and BART, but BART is nearing capacity at peak hours. Ferries are not exactly the most efficient capacity addition, but they are probably one of the faster projects available unless/until a second transbay tube actually brings more BART capacity.

    Adding more service from Oakland to SF would be helpful, but also providing service to other east bay locations would be a benefit. The trick is whether AC Transit will actually provide solid service to a possible Berkeley terminal. If not? Well….

  • Greg Rozmarynowycz

    Emeryville seems like a much better candidate for a new ferry terminal; there is an Amtrak station and an upcoming bus terminal, not to mention fairly strong bike infrastructure and hundreds of new housing units

  • Rogue Cyclist

    There’s also frequent Emery Go-Round shuttle service.

  • crazyvag

    With exception of one boat (445), the highest capacity ferry we have holds 400 passengers. A single BART car transport 200 passengers for comparison.

    You’d need some shuttle buses to fill each ferry.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    If we are going to throw out half-baked fantasy transportation projects for West Berkeley, I go with a frequent DMU like SMART, running on UPRR’s half-used but gigantic right-of-way from Richmond to Emeryville, maybe all the way to Jack London.

  • Given that the various transit agencies cannot operate effectively within their own systems much less together with other agencies it’s no wonder that we are in the situation we are in.

    Build a darn standard gauge rail bridge across the bay connecting the tracks in the east bay with downtown SF and then down the peninsula along Caltrain. Just freakin’ do it. The only tunnel you will need is between 4th/Townsend and a portal somewhere past the Salesforce Transit Center…you know, the same tunnel we’ve been waiting for now for several decades.

  • David

    A connection to Emeryville makes more sense than a connection to Berkeley. Although the freeway (commonly referred to as 80, not 580) is a similar obstacle, Watergate is right there and Emeryville has a more robust shuttle system compared to AC Transit’s occasional 51B trip to the marina.

  • James McVaney

    Oh gee… Another nay-sayer fuddy-duddy got his panties in a bunch.

    The ferry is a great idea for Berkeley for more reasons than I could list. The main reason for it is to provide emergency transportation incase of a catastrophe…as the name of the agency pushing it implies… WETA… The Water EMERGENCY Transportation Authority. Funny how the author of this clap-trap opinion piece fails to mention this basic premise.

  • sf in sf

    Sounds like an abuse of transportation dollars for what’s really recreation for Berkeley residents to drive to. No thanks.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    A ferry that can move 400 people per hour is good for what in an emergency? Evacuating the East Bay in only 500 days?

  • James McVaney

    By all means, Jeff, don’t let facts get in the way of your argument. The proposed ferries can hold 400 people per trip. Multiple trips can be made in an hour. And the people being transported would likely be doing important things for any recovery effort, not simply commuting. Nor would people in the East Bay need evacutating to the SF pennisula as they could easily head east if need be.

  • alussier

    The Richmond ferry terminal is still new and unfamiliar to many East Bay/SF commuters (and still doesn’t offer weekend service), while Hercules is moving along with its plans for consolidating rail/ferry/bus at one hub. Before I’d like to weigh in on the need for a Berkeley ferry – to provide an alternative and relief for BART’s overcrowded conditions, at least – I’d want to know the response of ferry service to these two places. I do see that the response to the existing Tidelands service from SF to Berkeley seems small: but is the little boat itself, or the fare (or both) the driving factor?

    But I do see overwhelming demand for more ferry service to Oakland/Alameda, Vallejo and Larkspur…that is if huge lines along the Embarcadero and minor scuffles about where the “boom” lowers that cuts people off and forces them to wait for the next boat are good indicators. I would quickly believe spending ferry money on more boats and more service to these places makes sense.

  • We’re not talking emergency preparedness/response. We’re talking providing alternatives to driving/easing congestion on roadways and a crowded BART system.

  • David

    WETA (a.k.a. San Francisco Bay Ferry) is tasked with both.

  • David

    Ridership on the Richmond Ferry has exceeded projections since its debut. Funding for weekend service is tied up in litigation surrounding the validity of RM3.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Yes, but one assumes that these critically-needed emergency personnel who just must be moved by boat during the emergency can as easily make their ways to Richmond or Oakland ferry terminals, or, given the population distribution, are more likely to already be in those places to begin with. The idea that a Berkeley ferry terminal improves emergency preparedness is just absurd.

  • millbrae

    The old Berkeley ferry was for cars. That’s probably why there is still no housing or services near the ferry. The ferry is all about getting you closer to a destination. Maybe cal students would take the ferry to/from SF or even Marin or to a giants game. Someday ferries on the bay might go from alameda to Berkeley and then to Richmond and Marin. It’s a whole new way of doing things. Some of the ferries in Venice Italy go in a loop. The same thing could happen here.


Ferries on the Bay

Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series of reports from Chris Carlsson on the history of transit in the Bay Area. There are thousands of people using ferries on the San Francisco Bay these days, so it’s hard to remember that ferry service died out for several decades. Of course the long history […]