Some @BGFleet Commuter Ferry Etiquette for Newbies


It's Friday, so let's talk about something besides Autodesk Forge. This is a blog post that I have wanted to write for years. Now if I can just get people to read it.

I commute to the Autodesk office in San Francisco via ferry. The ferry terminal in Alameda (where I live) is called Gateway Alameda. It gets its name because years ago before the Bay Bridge opened in 1936, the Southern Pacific railroad terminated at that location. Passengers wanting to continue to San Francisco then boarded a ferry. The railroad stop was considered the gateway to San Francisco.

Today the ferry service is operated by the Blue & Gold Fleet. I normally take the 6:00 am ferry and get to my desk at 6:30 am since the San Francisco Ferry Building is just across the street from our One Market Street office. To get home, I catch the 4:30 pm, 5:20 pm, or 5:45 pm ferry. It's about a 5-minute drive from Gateway Alameda to my home. So it's really not a bad commute at all.

The Blue & Gold Fleet is putting a new boat into service — the MV Hydrus. Hydrus is the name of a southern constellation that depicts a water snake. It's a larger boat than the one it is replacing — the MV Encinal. Ever since the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train strike, ferry ridership has been on the rise. With this shiny new and bigger boat, ridership will probably increase even more. That means that's there will be a lot of newbies who will be joining us long-time ferry commuters.

For those who are new to ferry commuting, here are the unwritten rules:

  • One Line

    When lining up for the 6:00 am ferry at Gateway Alameda, we form one line. At this early in the morning, there aren't enough people to form two parallel lines.

  • Quiet Time

    With the morning commute being so early, some passengers are not fully awake yet. It's quiet time on the morning ride. We talk quietly or listen to music with headphones.

  • Be Ready

    While waiting in line, we get our Clipper Cards ready. We tag our cards as we board. If you do not have a Clipper Card, you board and then purchase a one-way or round-trip ticket on the boat, on the first floor, near the front. A one-way fare is $6.25. With a Clipper Card, the fare is $5.00 each way.

  • Form a Line

    While on board, there will be a pre-recorded announcement that passengers are to not form a line and remain seated until the boat is docked. Everyone ignores that and forms a line; however, when doing so, expect those in chairs along the exit aisle to merge into the line when disembarking begins. Even though you've been standing there long before those passengers left their seats, don't expect them to wait for you before disembarking when you ignored the rule and formed a line.

  • Merge by Alternating One from Each Line

    Prior to disembarking, we have our Clipper Cards ready. When disembarking, there are multiple lines. As we approach the door, we use the merge process where we alternate one person from each line. The goal is to exit as efficiently as possible. If you are involved in a conversation, pause it for a moment as it is likely that a person will come between you and your traveling companion as part of the merge process. You can regroup and continue your conversation after you get off the boat. While disembarking, put your phone away. The exit process only takes a minute or two, so it won't kill you to look up from your phone so you can walk in unison with the other passengers instead of plodding along slowly or bumping into the person ahead of you.

  • Tag Off

    For riders with Clipper Cards, we tag on and tag off. It's just like using BART. This is necessary because the ferry terminals are used for a variety of destinations, and the card reader at your origin did not know your destination. For those who have purchased tickets, you hand them to the ferry agent as you pass.

  • Line Up on the Right

    When lining up for the ferry at Gate E adjacent to Ferry Building in San Francisco, there are 2 separate lines. The line on the left is for the Harbor Bay ferry. This ferry goes to the end of Alameda that is closest to the Oakland Airport. The line on the right is for Oakland/Gateway Alameda. This ferry stops at Gateway Alameda and then continues to Jack London Square in Oakland. For years, I have asked for signage to this effect, but my pleas have been ignored. The boarding process in San Francisco is the same as in Alameda.

  • Locked Entry Doors

    The doors at Gate E in San Francisco lock when the dock is not in use. They open 10 minutes before the arrival of each boat. Since passengers show up as early as 30 minutes before, we form a line just outside the entry. When it rains (see picture at the beginning of this post), we stand in the rain, blocked from using the covered awning.

Well, there you have it. These are the unwritten rules that I have observed based on 8 years of commuting to/from work. Like they said in Fast Times at Ridgemont High: These are the rules. Learn them. Know them. Live them. Abiding by these rules ensures a pleasant commute for everyone involved.

image source: San Francisco Bay Ferry

At a cost of $15M, the MV Hydrus is the cleanest-running 400 passenger ferry in the world. The state-of-the-art ferry was designed for quicker on-boarding/off-boarding, faster speeds, lower noise and vibration, lower emissions, and increased bicycle-storage capacity. The MV Hydrus is 41 meters long. Its hull design creates less of a wake which allows it to achieve higher speeds. To reduce emissions, the ferry is fueled by a diesel/biofuel blend. A catalytic converter sprays a urine-line substance into the exhaust to further reduce emissions. Although operated by Blue & Gold, the ferry is part of the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) plan for transporting people to/from San Francisco in the event that an earthquake disables the Bay Bridge. [Alameda Sun]

This reminds me of one additional rule:

  • Don't Delay

    Passengers with bicycles disembark after all of the other passengers. If there are 350 passengers, and each takes an extra 4 seconds to disembark, that's an extra 23 minutes and 20 seconds that the 50 cyclists need to wait. That's another example of why it's important for everyone to follow the unwritten rules of ferry etiquette and be prepared to disembark properly. It only takes 4 extra seconds per person to really add up.

To stay up to date with the latest changes to published ferry schedules, riders are encouraged to sign up for Bay Area Alerts.

Commuting is alive in the lab.