Ferry Service is Improving, Says WETA

Cultural Currents readers have reported that they are relieved to learn that ferry’s are becoming more reliable.

Anecdotal evidence has been corroborated by The San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA), the agency that provides San Francisco Bay Ferry service.

The agency recenlty released its 2023 year-to-date reliability and on-time performance data and announced improvements aimed at ensuring a better passenger experience and fewer disruptions.

Based on data collected since January 2023, this year to date San Francisco Bay Ferry has completed 99% of its scheduled trips, and 97% of scheduled trips have arrived at their destination within five minutes of the scheduled time.

This reliability and on-time performance data is available thanks to WETA’s 2022 launch of a real-time transit information system powered by Swiftly. In 2022 the ferry system also launched a new smartphone app powered by Anchor Operating System that allows users to subscribe to real-time rider alerts, providing easier access to service disruption information.

These improvements helped contribute to the service’s industry-leading 99% customer satisfaction rating, which was reinforced in a survey earlier this year where passengers rated the system’s service reliability and on-time performance highly at 4.2 out of five and 4.4 out of five respectively.

“Overall, we’re proud of San Francisco Bay Ferry’s high levels of reliability and on-time performance, but over the last several months, the service has been challenged by equipment failures and vessel availability, and we know there is opportunity to improve,” said WETA Executive Director Seamus Murphy. “Every major delay or cancellation is an enormous inconvenience for our passengers, and we owe it to them to do everything we can to minimize disruptions.”

Mechanical issues on ferries are the biggest contributor to service disruptions. Ferries undergo biennial drydocks, in which vessels are removed from the water for at least three weeks for inspections, maintenance and repairs. Vessels undergo even more thorough and lengthy quarter-life refurbishments approximately every six years. With 16 vessels in the San Francisco Bay Ferry fleet, this means that at least one vessel is out of service at any given time due to planned maintenance. Mechanical issues on the remaining available vessels can cause disruptions, such as those experienced systemwide the week of August 21.

Unanticipated crew shortages, boarding delays due to crush crowds, weather, and ship traffic in the transit channels, particularly in the Oakland Estuary, can also cause disruptions. Significant storms in January and March 2023 caused major service disruptions due to high winds and unsafe operating conditions.

When issues do arise, WETA’s operations team and contract operator Blue & Gold Fleet work to preserve key departures by any means necessary, including swapping spare vessels into service, sending crews on additional runs on overtime, and moving vessels on and off routes to fill gaps.

“San Francisco Bay Ferry’s 99% overall passenger satisfaction mark is a point of pride for us and we want to preserve it,” Murphy said. “That means focusing on the experience of the rider and there is nothing more important than knowing they can depend on us to get them where they need to go safely and on-time. Keeping our passengers requires high standards for service, so we’re committing to some additional steps to minimize the frequency and impact of disruptions.”