A lot can happen in eight years.

Hundreds of homes have cropped up near Richmond's waterfront. About 600 employees walk the halls of the once-vacant Ford Assembly Building. Businesses have opened their doors. Ferry service from Richmond to San Francisco debuted and died.

Now, a regional water transit agency and Richmond city leaders are looking at bringing back the ferry. An environmental study will begin this summer and could take a year to complete.

Locations for a terminal include an area that has within a half-mile more than 1,200 existing and approved housing units and businesses that employ just more than 2,000 people.

Those numbers exceed some estimates that indicate at least 750 rooftops are needed within a half-mile to generate sufficient ridership.

"We don't have to do significant dredging at this location," said Alan Wolken, the city's redevelopment director. "We could bring ferries here with minimal improvements."

A ferry would help reduce traffic congestion on the Bay Bridge, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, Interstates 80 and 580 and Richmond Parkway, he said.

It also would allow people to get around the Bay Area if a major earthquake or other emergency damages bridges, roads or BART. The waterfront is also close to Richmond's Kaiser hospital.

A Richmond ferry service had its share of loyal riders during its previous run from 1999 to 2000. Commuters at times were treated to music. And, sometimes, Crockett resident Karen Durantes would belly-dance.

"It was so pleasant," said Kate Lord, a Point Richmond resident who rode the ferry to work in San Francisco. "When you come home at night, you really feel refreshed. Even in the winter, it was never rough out there."

The push for a more robust Bay Area ferry service got a financial boost in June when the Governor's Office of Homeland Security approved $25 million in Proposition 1B transportation bond money for the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, an agency created last year to oversee a Bay ferry network.

Proposition 1B, sponsored by state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, eventually will allocate $250 million to the Water Emergency Transportation Authority to help craft a ferry system to move people and supplies, especially in a disaster that might wreck bridges and highways.

The June allocation will be used to build a ferry terminal in South San Francisco and to continue planning terminals in Berkeley and Hercules, said Shirley Douglas, a water authority spokeswoman. In addition, $2 million will be dedicated to environmental studies for ferry service out of Richmond, Antioch, Martinez and Redwood City, she said.

A terminal can cost more than $30 million, depending on how much dredging and other improvements are needed, Douglas said.

The previous Richmond ferry debuted Sept. 29, 1999, taking 68 riders across the Bay on its inaugural trip. But it could not float financially on it average 45 riders a day, according to the privately operated Red and White Fleet.

The company estimated it needed 200 daily passengers to break even. The Richmond ferry's final voyage was in November 2000.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Proposed Bay Area Ferries
  • Oakland to South San Francisco: Terminal construction could start next year
  • Berkeley to San Francisco: Draft environmental report nearly complete; public hearing possible later this summer
  • Hercules to San Francisco: Draft environmental report in the works; public hearing possible in the fall
  • Richmond to San Francisco: Environmental study beginning this summer
  • Antioch/Martinez to San Francisco: Environmental study beginning this summer
  • Redwood City to San Francisco: Environmental study beginning this summer