Bay Area Commuters Clamor for More Ferry Service

Several days a week dissatisfied patrons are left behind when full boats depart the Larkspur Ferry Terminal in Marin County. More ferries to SF are planned, as are new parking fees at the terminal and shuttle service for those who forgo driving.

The Golden Gate Bridge District's ferry from Larkspur in Marin County to San Francisco has a problem: transit demand exceeds available capacity.

"About four days a week we have a couple of extra buses to take folks from the ferry terminal to the city," said Denis Mulligan, the bridge district's general manager. "They would rather be on the boat."

Mark Prado writes that the bridge district has prepared a new vision plan to address the problem. Commuters will no doubt be pleased by the additional ferry service, but the new parking fees (currently free) may be more difficult to accept. In addition, the plan calls for reintroducing shuttles (which previously were poorly patronized due to free terminal parking) to feed into the terminal (PDF) for those who choose not to drive there.

The ferries and buses are run by the bridge district to reduce congestion on the Golden Gate Bridge. A historical context was posted here in 2010. Transit service is subsidized by tolls paid by motorists who cross the bridge.

Unlike some ferry services on San Francisco Bay, such as the struggling Oakland and Alameda service to South San Francisco (San Mateo County) operated by the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, Larkspur service is quite popular with Marin residents. Prado provides some recent historical background:

Larkspur ferry ridership has grown over the past decade-plus and now some 5,300 passengers a day use the ferries. Until September 1998, the lumbering but reliable Spaulding ferries made the trek across the bay in a sluggish 45 minutes. But with the arrival of spry, high-speed catamarans — that make the same trip to San Francisco in 30 minutes — more people have been attracted to the system and ridership is growing at about 5 percent annually.

Speed isn't everything though. According to district's "Bikes & Ferries" which also shows pictures of the two types of ferries, "the catamaran class vessels have stowage for 15 bikes. The Spaulding class vessels can accommodate up to 100 bikes." 

Some mornings at the terminal, up to 100 ferry patrons are left behind because boats are full. The district provides back-up buses to get commuters into San Francisco, but some angry patrons hop back in their cars and drive instead.

In addition, the free parking lots fill up by 8:30AM. Overflow parking run by the Marin Airporter is available, though they charge $4 a space. Consequently, it generally has vacancies.

"We ultimately will end up with pay parking", said Jim Swindler, head of the ferry division for the district.  "But if we roll that out, it's important to roll it out not only with the shuttles, but also with the announcement of the extra service in the morning."

Full Story: Larkspur Ferry Terminal in line for more ferry service, pay parking and shuttles

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