Row your boat
June 6, 2006 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Why are there no water taxis across the San Francisco Bay? Can I kayak to work?

Most cities in the Bay Area have waterfront access (map). Be it North Bay cities like Sausalito, San Rafael, Petaluma and Napa (via rivers).... East Bay cities like Alameda, Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond.... Delta cities like Crockett, Martinez, Benicia, Pittsburg.... southern East Bay cities like San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Newark.... penninsula cities like Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Mateo, Millbrae... San Francisco itself...

So, why are there no water taxis? The ferries are on fixed routes, run about once an hour, and are slow. To go from the Oakland airport to the San Francisco airport, isn't the shortest route directly across the water? Wouldn't that be faster -- especially with traffic? Why have no water shuttle services sprung up? Should I get out there with my ultra-quiet, fuel cell speed boat to fill the niche? I googled the question and only found people saying water taxis would be a good idea. Anyone know of groups working to get water taxis happening? Is there some reason this is a bad idea? Wildlife? Strong currents? General boat chaos?

The broader reason I ask -- I've become obsessed with the fact that (ignoring the ferries) I can only get across this large body of water on two fixed routes -- the BART tunnel and the bridge. I stand on the waterfront between Emeryville and Berkeley (pic - wrong location, right feeling) looking at the city and wanting to get there without going down in a tunnel or on a bridge high above. If I lived in San Francisco, I could just bike to work, being outside the entire time, but living in the East Bay, every time I want to cross, I pay $3.50, get in some public transit conveyor system, go through one of two fixed routes on their timetable. The overnight bridge closures this weekend show how much we depend on these paths, and what if one or both gets wrecked in an earthquake?

So, for my daily commute, could I row from Emeryville to San Francisco? What would I do with the kayak on either end?

I'm a total maritime newbie, so please forgive any obvious mistakes... I'd just love to hear anything about the idea of individuals being able to get around the Bay Area by water.
posted by salvia to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd say either bike the Bay Bridge or call City Kayak since they'd probably be the most in the know.

I'm going to leave the joke about being obsessed with ferries in SF as an exercise to the reader.
posted by kcm at 9:21 AM on June 6, 2006

The cities that I've lived in that have had water taxis have had insanely expensive water taxis. I don't know if boats just have a really high fixed cost or what, but they were never ever ever an economical way of getting anywhere.
posted by occhiblu at 9:22 AM on June 6, 2006

Kayaking the Bay isn't to be taken lightly... kayaks tip, and Alcatraz was such a great location for a high-security prison because the Bay is cold enough and treacherous enough to probably kill anyone trying to swim it without a wetsuit. (Not that it couldn't be done, physically -- I don't know about the legalities -- but you'd want to be an experienced kayaker and swimmer and be familiar with all the relevant precautions.)

There has been recent investigation into having more ferries.

Historical trivia: you could get from downtown Berkeley to downtown San Francisco by mass transit in the '20's as fast as today -- at the Berkeley Marina, they'd roll train cars straight onto ferries.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:26 AM on June 6, 2006

I wonder about this in Seattle too. Living in the city and working in the suburbs isn't so great when there's a GIANT LAKE in the way. There used to be ferries, I guess, but now we just have floating bridges.

You'd need to leave a car on either end of the water, I guess, and either both cars must be big enough to haul your kayak or you'll need to make friends with someone who lives close enough to the water to let you store it in their yard/boathouse. Sigh.
posted by GaelFC at 9:35 AM on June 6, 2006

Best answer: Biking the Bay Bridge is illegal (I know people who've been arrested for it.) There is a Bay Bridge Bike Shuttle during peak commute hours for $1 -- the cheapest way to cross the Bay I know (outside of a casual carpool with someone who doesn't want any compensation.) Doesn't address any of the fixed points on someone else's schedule problems, but it's another method.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:38 AM on June 6, 2006

I recall reading an article in one of the free newspapers that the city was considering a proposal for a fleet of hovercraft. Although it doesn't address your immediate commuting need you may want to do some research on the group supporting this proposal and get involved.
posted by quadog at 9:57 AM on June 6, 2006

Best answer: Kayaking the bay is not very difficult in the mornings or evenings, when the water is calmest, as long as you steer well clear of the Golden Gate Bridge. The currents are very strong there because all the tides come in and out only through there -- that's a lot of water. Probably a good idea to stay south of Treasure Island and
the Bay Bridge, too.

It will take you at least an hour in ideal conditions unless you're a really strong paddler. And then you'd have to stow your boat and gear, not to mention desweatification.
posted by pmbuko at 10:00 AM on June 6, 2006

Oh, I dunno... maybe because of the HUGE CONTAINER SHIPS that are going to n' fro? ;-)

There might be a valid safety reason for this. Have you considered giving the local Coast Guard office a call? It might be illegal to kayak across the bay, but on the other hand, it might be perfectly legal to do. If it is, go for it.

I'd imagine that water taxis are not in very high demand and are simply too expensive. If it's just a boat going from A to B and then back to A, it's a ferry, not a water taxi. :)

And the link to posted is quite interesting. They sound like typical anti-car militant hippies.
posted by drstein at 10:22 AM on June 6, 2006

Response by poster: Zed_Lopez -- great tip on the bike shuttle!

About biking the Bay Bridge -- looks like it will eventually be possible? Is that right?

Good tip on the ferry expansion, too. Here's the Water Transit Authority's page showing proposed new routes. Links on the left tell you when they'll go into service (e.g., Berkeley in 2010).

About kayaking -- I called City Kayak for more information. He had a lot of cautions on safety: "I think some people could do it. But for most people, I wouldn't recommend it, because kayaking, you're out there alone. I'm kind of a safety freak, so I don't like that idea. Also, the Bay has strong currents, wind, boat traffic.... Alone, you're like a floating log, so the boats don't see you, which is probably the biggest concern."

Re: currents, you would start with information on Golden Gate bridge tides, but know that there's a couple hours difference (between GG tides and tides nearer the Bay Bridge), even some differences in direction. Each point that you look at is different.

He backed up pmbuko's estimate, saying it'd take someone an hour to 90 minutes.

Re: boat logistics. He said that they provide customer storage for $60/month. They're pretty close to downtown, so someone could leave a kayak there, but they don't offer launch access, so I'm not sure where someone would get in and out of the water. Also, he doesn't know of storage on the Emeryville side. Do other people have tips on this?

drstein, "militant hippies," I love it. ;) They're definitely idealistic, I'll give you that.
posted by salvia at 10:49 AM on June 6, 2006

Best answer: why are there no water taxis?

Simple economics -- it costs too much to carry too few people too few times per day. It's the same reason there are very few helicopter ferry services.

Ferry services in Seattle were viable because there were few highways -- it's a long, bumpy trip from Redmond to Seattle by car if there's no highways and nicely paved streets with cars lucky to do 30 mph on a straight stretch.

But I have wondered if this concept could ever be made to work for commuters.
posted by frogan at 12:27 PM on June 6, 2006

Best answer: it would be a great kayak, but you should keep in the back of your mind that the bay is full of sharks
posted by petsounds at 1:00 PM on June 6, 2006

About biking the Bay Bridge -- looks like it will eventually be possible? Is that right?

huh, holy crap. I thought the cyclists had totally lost out on this one, but it looks like they're definitely building the eastern span and have decided that it would be feasible to build a western span (although would cost from $160-$300 mill).

That's frickin awesome.
posted by fishfucker at 1:14 PM on June 6, 2006

That Bay Bridge Bike Path article is from 2000 - that was the initial "compromise" by which funds earmarked for the bike lane are used and then the space never used for bikes. Half a bridge worth of bike lanes to a destination with few amenities is not much of a transit victory.
posted by mzurer at 1:31 PM on June 6, 2006

mzurer -- I realized that the article was out of date, but the recent stuff I read in order to establish whether or not it was still happening seemed to suggest that at the very least, they were putting one on the eastern span.

Sure, it'll be worthless until there's a full route across the bridge, but i'm willing to take an eastern span bike route over no bike route.
posted by fishfucker at 1:56 PM on June 6, 2006

and treasure island is sorta cool. i'd definitely ride out there at least once.
posted by fishfucker at 1:57 PM on June 6, 2006

Treasure Island? No treasure. Angel Island? No angels. Devil's Island? No devils. They really should put some more thought into naming these things.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:10 PM on June 6, 2006

I've spent a fair amount of time on the bay in sailboats, and things can get really hairy really fast out there. Add to that strong tides and cross traffic and you don't have an easy water commute situation. On a day to day basis it's pretty hard to forecast what the conditions will be like out there.
posted by gallois at 2:20 PM on June 6, 2006

Response by poster: Oooh, sharks! Cool link! But I'm not going to get too worried. :)
posted by salvia at 2:32 PM on June 6, 2006

Don't get me wrong - I love Treasure Island too! I used to live and bike in SF and I'm just still bitter about the fight for the lane. Along with the Boulevard tear-down that became a boondoggle. And the ATM fee thingy. And the crummy weather.
posted by mzurer at 6:48 PM on June 6, 2006

One of my favorite metro areas is the Cochin-Ernakulam area in Kerala, India. Cochin is kind of like San Francisco in that it's at the end of a peninsula, and Ernakulam like Oakland in that it's on the "mainland". There were scheduled water taxis going all over the place, a trip cost 5 rupees (in 1999), which is less than 25 cents, and the boats were absolutely packed during rush hour. I loved it, and have always wished there was something more like that in other watery cities I've been.

Where I live, in the gulf islands between the mainland and Vancouver Island, there are also scheduled water taxis, but they're very expensive and only run during the summer (tourist season). If you want a non-scheduled ride, it's extremely expensive ($50-$100 for a pretty short trip).

I've been toying with the idea of setting up a business shuttling people between a couple of the islands (a spot where it would take about 5 minutes to shuttle between the main villages on a couple of islands)... although it probably would only be viable in the summer.
posted by Emanuel at 7:58 PM on June 6, 2006

Forget the kayak - commute by speed boat. It doesn't have to be a million dollar Cigarette boat, something more modest will do. Plus you'll need moorage at both ends, and something to get around on once you reach San Francisco - could be a scooter.

Of course, between boat payments, moorage rent and gas costs, this won't be cheap by any means. But hey if you can already afford housing in the bay area, it might not look so bad!
posted by richg at 9:45 PM on June 6, 2006

i hear you mzurer -- i once rode a crit mass charge across the freeway bridge to the marina -- and there's a bike path now. Not that we had anything to do with it, but I think if there's a path to treasure island, there will inevitably be a path to the city. that's my hope, at the least.

if you still live there, we should ride the next mass. I know there's mixed opinion about it, but I've never enjoyed myself more on a bicycle. the weather isn't crummy, though. It's perfect. try living in sacramento for awhile, watching the streets melt in summer.

and fuck those fees and fuck san francisco for not taking a stand. don't blame me, i voted for matt*.

* yes, the matt gonzalez thing was much too late to have an effect on the fees issue, but whatever. ah, sf politics.
posted by fishfucker at 10:51 PM on June 6, 2006

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