SPUR’s report Critical Cooling recommends 42 options for reducing local carbon emissions. This is one of them. To learn about all 42 ideas, read the full report

Expand Regional Ferry Service

Urbanist Article
Annual savings potential:
Annual public cost:
Public cost per ton:
Implementing agency:
Horizon year:
-58,000 tons (CO2 increase)
$1010 per ton of increased CO2
Water Emergency Transportation Authority


  • The project would reduce the Bay Areas overall VMT per day by 132,500 miles, reducing passenger vehicle emissions by 65 tons per day.
  • Expanded ferry service would generate an additional 259 metric tons of CO2 emissions per day.


Expansion of the ferry system could produce more transportation choices for Bay Area commuters. Doing so could also reduce vehicle miles traveled by an estimated 0.07 percent, but only at the cost of significant new emissions from ferry vehicles. This project would not reduce carbon emissions, but instead would create more emissions.

What we do now
The Water Emergency Transportation Authority provides ferry service throughout the Bay Area. The existing system provides seven ferry routes, with service among Alameda, Harbor Bay, Larkspur, Oakland, Sausalito, Tiburon and Vallejo.

What we could do
The WETA has proposed a significant system expansion, using funds such as bridge toll revenues, local sales tax measures, federal grants and farebox recovery. The system expansion would include seven new ferry routes, up to 31 new passenger ferries and the expansion of facilities at San Francisco’s Ferry Building. The agency aims to add ferry vehicles that are significantly cleaner than those currently operating, and to triple ferry patronage by 2025, drawing a majority of riders from cars.

The WETA staff estimates that the annualized capital cost of the system expansion would be approximately $38 million. The additional operating expense of the proposed system expansion is not known. However, the WETA staff estimates the additional 13,700 passengers expected daily would require an operating subsidy similar to the current rate of $5 per boarding. Based on this estimate, the additional operating cost would be approximately $20.6 million, for a total annual cost of $58.6 million.1

Carbon savings potential
The most reliable data for the expansion of the ferry system comes from an environmental analysis completed for the agency by engineering design firmURS. The analysis found that the proposed expansion was likely to reduce the Bay Area’s overall VMT per day by 132,500 miles, reducing passenger vehicle emissions by 65 tons per day. Buses to ferry terminals would increase their emissions slightly. However, the new ferry service would generate significant new emissions. As compared to the no-project scenario, the ferry vehicles would generate an additional 259 metric tons of CO2 emissions per day. Overall, the impact of the new ferry service would be an additional 193 metric tons of CO2 emissions per day, or 58,000 tons per year compared to the no-project scenario.2

Based on this analysis, expansion of the ferry system would require new capital and operating expense, but would result in a net increase in CO2 emissions.SPUR logo

1 John Sindzinski, WETA staff.
2 WETA Ferry Expansion Final Draft EIR. URS