Attention Needed for Ferry Service

The Alameda Sun received a copy of this letter addressed to Mayor Trish Spencer, Vice-Mayor Frank Matarrese and Councilman Tony Daysog.

Dear Mayor Spencer, Vice-Mayor Matarrese and Councilman Daysog:
I normally don’t “get involved” with local politics; I’m busy enough as it is with my work and family. But I am so very frustrated with everything that is not happening for Alameda ferry riders that I’m appealing to you for help, either from the city directly or thru the city’s affiliation with the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA).

I’ve communicated in the past with Vice-Mayor Frank Matarrese and Councilmember Tony Daysog on ferry issues (and met with then-Public Works Director Bill Norton about ideas to save the Harbor Bay service. Those were the days we were flirting with the required 40 percent fare box revenue threshold and a boat workers’ union contract renewal was also on the horizon.

I have lived in Alameda since 1983; our sons grew up here and went through Alameda public schools. I’ve been a regular ferry rider since 1996 and am passionate about the service for a variety of reasons. I worked in the business park for the developer as executive director of the business park owners association in the late 1980s, when the service was being established (initially with a hovercraft).

I’ve also been involved with community support over the years as a Little League coach, Alameda Rotarian of the Year in 1989, a board member and treasurer of the Boy Scout Council in the early ’90s. My wife Susie currently prepares a meal for the Midway Shelter each quarter, along with the $1,000 annual grant I’ve secured from my employer for the shelter. For more than 20 years I’ve functioned as a chief financial officer for several real estate investment, development and management firms based in San Francisco.

I, and every longtime rider I know, are extremely distressed about the lack of consideration for the ridership and the apparent serious absence of foresight and long-term planning that has resulted in the current problems. Further galling is the apparent lack of attention to resolve them. At the same time I’m reading of $45 million committed to development of new maintenance docking facilities (which I have no issue with) and a four-story administration building (which I object to.)

Riders of both Alameda ferry services have horrible parking challenges, inadequate terminals with almost no shelter from the elements and over-crowded boats. It’s really shameful what riders have to put up with. This must embarrass the service providers when compared to “real” commuter ferry operations elsewhere in the country.

The Harbor Bay ferry terminal and parking have been unimproved since they were originally developed, even though the ridership has ballooned to the point that there is now only one vessel (The Peralta, with a 263-passenger capacity) that can accommodate more than 250 riders on the San Francisco peak run over (at 7:30 a.m.) and back (at 5:30 p.m.). 

The Peralta is almost full now and soon will be leaving passengers behind). The parking at Harbor Bay is maxed out for the 7:30 a.m. run with riders parking on the street for that run and no spaces at all left for the hundreds of passengers who need to park for the 8:30 a.m. departure. I will never understand why the city gave the adjacent land to a developer years ago. Riders voiced this exact concern when it happened.  

I also don’t understand why WETA says it can’t afford to either purchase or lease some of that land for parking and terminal expansion) while building nice, new accommodations for administrators. I find this a total mystery and, frankly, insulting. If the idea is to discourage ridership, then the plan will work. Forcing riders to line up outside in the rain and wind during winter storms after foraging for parking in the neighborhoods and then trekking to the dock. This is the same sad story at Alameda Gateway.

I spoke briefly with Mayor Spencer at a forum held at Bay Farm Elementary School last spring. I recall that the WETA rep promised release of a comprehensive plan last June. It’s now January (almost February), and we have yet to see the plan. It remains very unclear who is ultimately responsible as the city and WETA each point the finger at the other when it comes to providing adequate parking. 

The city representatives suggested adding a few spaces along one or two nearby streets or even further away in the business park, ideas that are neither practical nor adequate for the current need, let alone addressing growth. The only solution that riders at the meeting felt was practical was making use of that empty adjacent land — seems so logical, and hearing the response at that meeting that the agency was too poor to secure it was laughable and pitiful at the same time.

Mayor Spencer, Vice-Mayor Matarrese and Councilman Daysog, I invite you to visit the Harbor Bay terminal one rainy morning and see what the riders “enjoy” these days. (Lines begin to form about 20 minutes before departures and stretch way down the pathway toward the lonely building at the far end of the vacant land.) One would think that providing boats with capacity for future growth, facilities that shelter ridership now and into the future and adequate parking to accommodate current and growing needs would be a priority.

I am more than happy to discuss this further if you have questions, comments or suggestions and, again, all the Alameda ferry riders can use some help.