Commentary: Treasure Island’s Phantom Ferry

A rendering of the Treasure Island ferry. Or maybe it's a real ferry. Streetsblog doesn't know. Image: Treasure Island Development Authority
A rendering of the Treasure Island ferry. Or maybe it's a real ferry. Streetsblog doesn't know. Image: Treasure Island Development Authority

Philosophical question: if a ferry’s location and departures are kept secret, does it reduce CO2 emissions?

A new ferry service was supposed to have launched from Gate B of the San Francisco Ferry Building to Treasure Island on Tuesday. From the Mayor’s office:

Mayor London N. Breed, Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA), and Treasure Island Community Development (TICD) today celebrated the official launch of ferry service to and from Treasure Island, marking a critical milestone in the redevelopment of the former Naval Station. “Today marks a significant step forward in realizing the transportation vision for Treasure Island,” said Mayor Breed. “This new ferry service will not only increase transit options for existing residents, but it will allow all San Franciscans and visitors of our city an opportunity to experience the current and future amenities that Treasure Island has to offer. I want to thank everyone at Treasure Island Community Development and PROP SF for working together to make this service available.”

However, as I discovered, the ferry’s existence is in doubt.

On opening day, I headed to the San Francisco Ferry Building, shooting for the 4 p.m. ferry, listed on the new service’s web page in the mayor’s release. The first thing I noticed when I got to the ferry terminal is it wasn’t on the departure board, as seen below:

The supposed TI ferry isn't listed on the departure board. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The supposed TI ferry isn’t listed on the departure board. And no, it wasn’t on page 2 either. Also, why are the departures out of order? Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

I went to the Bay Crossings ferry ticket and information desk and asked if the 4 p.m. ferry to Treasure Island was on time. “There is no ferry to Treasure Island,” I was told. I started to look around for any information on the new service. None of the maps in the terminal showed a Treasure Island ferry.

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I checked the San Francisco Bay Ferry web page on my phone. No Treasure Island ferry on any of the drop-down menus.

Befuddled, I went back to the city’s press release: yup, the date is correct and it says Gate B. I double-checked the web page listed in the release, and, yes, there’s a ferry at 4 p.m. I walked down to Gate B and finally found some real-world evidence that the ferry exists:

PXL_20220301_232452506.MP

Keep in mind this schedule board in the above photo is at the extreme northern end of the docks. One would already have to know where to go to find it.

I still had 30 minutes to kill, so I headed back into the terminal, sat down, ordered a Coke, and did a little work. I got back to Gate B at 3:50. There were two ferries at the dock and two lines of people, heading to Larkspur and Sausalito. So I went to the front of the line and asked the ferry crews about the Treasure Island ferry.

“Oh, it left,” one of the boat crews told me.

“But it’s not due to leave until 4.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. We saw it leave as we pulled in.”

With gaps of over two hours, this is not the kind of service where a ferry boat pilot should ever ignore the schedule and leave early. Except, of course, this is the Bay Area. As we all know, Bay Area’s transit services are really bad at, well, service.

The ticket and information office where I was told there was no TI ferry
The ticket and information office where I was told there was no TI ferry

The Bay Area’s 27 transit operators may know how to run trains, boats, and buses. But they are, on average, horrible at setting and coordinating schedules, devising rational fare structures, providing accurate wayfinding and information, and just generally seeing things from the point of view of customers. The botched opening of the new ferry service is another illustration of why this region so desperately needs a network manager riding above all these systems, coordinating everything, collecting fares, and paying agencies based on performance. The manager has to specialize in looking at things from a customer perspective. There are hundreds of thousands of potential transit customers who drive because the systems are basically user-hostile.

Streetsblog's impression of the TI ferry. "Death as a ferryman", a satirical drawing from Punch, 1858
Streetsblog’s impression of the TI ferry. “Death as a ferryman”, a satirical drawing from Punch, 1858

I mean, if I wasn’t the Streetsblog guy, after Tuesday’s experience and a whole lot of others like it, why would I ever try using a Treasure Island ferry again?

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