Expanded water taxi service expected with more development 

click to enlarge water taxi
  • mike koozmin/the s.f. examiner
  • Montgomery George captains the Lil' Taxi water taxi.
When The City’s roads become too crowded, the only way to get around may be on the open water.

Taxis on the Bay could someday relieve congestion on The Embarcadero and on the crowded F-Market Muni line, Port of San Francisco commissioners and staffers believe.

And while there are doubts as to whether expanded “water taxis” in San Francisco could turn a profit, transit via the Bay could become a necessity rather than a luxury once the new neighborhoods planned for Treasure Island, Mission Bay and Pier 70 are built.

Currently, commuters take ferries to work in The City, as an alternative to sitting in traffic before and after Giants games, or for other inter-city trips.

In other major coastal cities in the world, people can use boats for trips within city limits in the same way City residents would use a taxi cab, Uber, or a Muni bus.

Currently, two companies operate limited water taxi service in San Francisco after receiving approval in late 2012.

One, Tideline Marine Group, charges as much as $50 a head to take passengers to Marin or the East Bay from the San Francisco waterfront on one of its two boats for “on-demand service” that needs to be arranged beforehand.

The other, San Francisco Water Taxi, began service in March with one 18-person boat and plans to launch another this fall. That service is “hop-on, hop-off,” like a bus.

So far, the Water Taxi has a small but dedicated following, though it caters mostly to tourists or other visitors to the waterfront rather than locals, owner and captain Dave Thomas told The San Francisco Examiner.

“Right now we’re about breaking even” on operational costs, he said, with about 15 people a day paying $10 to ride between Hyde Street pier and AT&T Park, with a stop at the Ferry Building. “And for that, you get the best view in The City.”

The boats should start making a fourth stop, near the Exploratorium and the James R. Herman Cruise Terminal, soon.

The next water taxi stops are planned for Mission Bay in time for the grand opening of the Golden State Warriors’ new arena in 2018.

That limited service is in stark contrast to places like Hong Kong, Boston and Sydney, which offer in some cases dozens of boat-based transit options, including boat service to airports as well as tourist attractions and centers of commerce.

Transit needs may drive traffic to the water by necessity. Surface traffic along The Embarcadero is already clogged, Port officials say.

With nearly all future development in The City to be on or near the waterfront, water taxis would be “a way to get away from that” congestion, said Jamie Hurley, a real estate analyst at the Port of San Francisco.

While ridership has been slow to start, demand appears to be there: Nearly 85 percent of the 1,110 people surveyed by a Port contractor in August 2013 said they would take water taxis, Hurley told the Port Commission earlier this month.

That support is there provided that the fare for a one-way trip was no more than $10.

Port officials hope to build the fifth water taxi stop in Mission Bay within the next three years. Another stop on Terry Francois Boulevard at 16th Street would service game-day traffic for the new Warriors arena.

Then, once tens of thousands of new housing units at Treasure Island and Hunters Point go online, demand could surge even higher, Port commissioner Doreen Ho Wo said.

Travel “north south down to Candlestick will be great, and even beyond,” she said. “This is a great start.”

That is, provided the existing taxis can hang on until then.

Word is spreading slowly that the taxis are available, said SF Water Taxi’s Thomas, who said that he could turn a profit by running 50 passengers a day.

“I think it’s going to happen,” he said, before adding, “I would really appreciate it if the locals would come ride with us more in the winter.”

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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