Thursday, September 25, 2008

MTC OKs funds to help keep ferry afloat

MTC OKs funds to help keep ferry afloat
Officials plan to lower prices, expand service
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 09/25/2008

Passengers walk up a ramp to board the Baylink ferry Wednesday. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission on Wednesday approved the allocation of $1.9 million in toll bridge funds needed to keep the Vallejo ferry afloat.

This paves the way for planned service expansions that will link the region to the rest of the Bay Area with the Vallejo ferry at the center, said city transportation chief Crystal Odem Ford.

"We're very pleased," Odem Ford said. "It will have a positive impact on ridership. The Vallejo ferry terminal is one of the Bay Area's 12 most important transit hubs, according to the MTC."

Ferry ridership became an issue after falling precipitously following a significant rate hike in June.

The money will cover the ferry's operating costs for the rest of the fiscal year, and allow Vallejo to reduce fares to nearly what they were before the increase.

The funds are for one year only and any future funding requests will be subject to the completion of the transfer of Vallejo's Baylink Ferry operations to the recently created Water Emergency Transportation Authority, or WETA, on July 1.

The Solano Transportation Authority approved its $150,000 portion of the funding Sept. 10 and the Solano County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on its $150,000 contribution Oct. 7, for a total of $2.2 million.

Vallejo's ferry system faced a projected $1.9 million deficit in fiscal year 2008-09 because of rising fuel prices and lost ridership. Vallejo officials say they hope the reduced fares, combined with added service, will help recoup the estimated 10 percent to 15 percent loss in ridership experienced since the June fare increase.

Expanded service will include new bus routes from surrounding cities to Vallejo's Baylink Ferry terminal.

The new SolanoExpress/Baylink Route 78 is set to start Oct. 6. Operated by Vallejo Transit with the Solano Transportation Authority, the service will feature commuter-style buses that will connect to the Vallejo ferry terminal from Vallejo, Benicia, and the Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek BART.

And a new express bus route operated by Napa VINE Transit will connect the Napa Valley to the ferry terminal in early 2009, officials said.

"This will be a limited-stop line, with plush, reclining seats and Wi-Fi, from Calistoga to Vallejo, with one stop in each city along the way," said acting Napa transit program manager Deborah Brunner. "There are a lot of Napans commuting into the Oakland/San Francisco side, and many are driving, catching the bus or the ferry."

In a prepared statement, Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis and former mayor and WETA board member Tony Intintoli both expressed satisfaction with the way things are going leading up to the state takeover of the ferry.