Fisherman’s Wharf transit options difficult to navigate, workers say 

click to enlarge Fisherman’s Wharf, which is primarily served by the F-Market and Wharves streetcar, has trouble keeping and attracting employees to its businesses because of transportation issues. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.f. Examiner
  • Fisherman’s Wharf, which is primarily served by the F-Market and Wharves streetcar, has trouble keeping and attracting employees to its businesses because of transportation issues.

A South of Market and Mission Bay resident until recently, Troy Campbell knows well the difficulty in taking public transit to Fisherman's Wharf to get to work.

The executive director of the Fisherman's Wharf Community Benefit District said on weekdays, he would wait in vain for the F-Market and Wharves streetcar, but often end up walking to his office at The Cannery shopping mall.

"The F-line would pass me by and other people waiting as well because it's packed to the gills," Campbell said. "I'm completely empathetic to why they would be late to work because I experienced it myself."

A wealth of anecdotal accounts from businesses in the benefit district, which spans from Pier 39 to Ghirardelli Square and the north side of Bay Street to the north side of Jefferson Street, prompted Campbell to put out a survey addressing Muni service to the area.

Over two weeks, 59 businesses responded. Collectively, they reported that 261 employees resigned over transportation issues. In addition, 30 businesses said it is hard to achieve desired staffing levels and 23 of those also indicated that out of 657 total positions, 177 remain unfilled.

"I was really surprised by that," Campbell said. "Having open positions creates more hardships on the people that do work there because they are covering more. It just kind of snowballs into other things."

The top issue for survey respondents was worker tardiness from 6 to 10 a.m. due to overcrowded streetcars and buses that routinely pass by workers.

"It's a common phone call we get, that 'I'm waiting on transportation,' or, 'My bus is late,'" said Barry Cales, general manager of the Hard Rock Cafe at Pier 39. "We just kind of roll with it. It's expected that if staff take public transportation, they could be late, so we try to build that into our schedule."

This year alone, the Hard Rock Cafe has lost nearly 30 employees due to transportation problems and is actively looking to fill at least 10 positions.

The other two big issues were infrequent Muni schedules and no service on weekends, along with getting from the Wharf area to BART in time to catch the last trains to the East Bay. Another straw on the camel's back, Campbell said, is a minimum-wage increase in Oakland -- where the highest percentage of Wharf employees commute from -- from $9 to $12.25 taking effect in March. While San Francisco's minimum wage in May will jump from $10.74 to $12.25 as well, the equal wage reduces incentive to travel across the San Francisco Bay, he said.

Insufficient transit to the Wharf is not new. Commuting to The City's northeast for work became less attractive in late 2006, he said, when the Westfield San Francisco Centre near Powell Street station unveiled an expansion remodel that included a movie theater, Bloomingdale's and new shops easily accessible through public transit on Market Street. Also, in 2009, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, faced with budget cuts, truncated the 10-Townsend line to only go as far as Broadway, cutting out the Wharf.

Most businesses say they would rather have the underconstruction Central Subway T-Third Street line extended past Chinatown to Fisherman's Wharf.

"The extension is not just about visitors joyriding to the Wharf. It is a practical and economic necessity for Wharf business owners and their workers," said Julie Christensen, a founding member of SF NexTstop, a group of businesses and neighbors advocating for the extension.

The SFMTA discussed a conceptual study for the extension Tuesday, but it is far from becoming a reality.

"Even if this was something that was chosen as a priority to move forward with, a new rail extension to Fisherman's Wharf wouldn't begin operations until at least a decade in the future," SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose said.

A short-term solution might be to increase bus service to the area. Guenevere Blanchard, 42, owner of the organic restaurant 3 Potato 4 on Leavenworth Street, said she lost two student employees and three others in the past six months.

"You can imagine the time and effort I put in to train people just to have them leave," she said.

Survey says ...

The Fisherman's Wharf Community Benefit District recently conducted a survey with business members about public-transit access to the area.

Percent of transit problems employees experience:

85: Buses and streetcars are too crowded

77: Transit schedules are too infrequent

75: No service when employees need to get to and from work on weekends

71: Cannot get to BART from Fisherman's Wharf

53: Cost of transportation is too high

33: No service when employees need to get to and from work on weekdays

25: Cannot get to Caltrain from Fisherman's Wharf

1: Cannot get to Marin Airporter from Fisherman's Wharf

Percentage of where Fisherman's Wharf employees live:

40: East Bay

37: San Francisco

17: Peninsula

6: Marin County

Source: Fisherman's Wharf Community Benefit District

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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