History of Vallejo Ferry Service

Red & White Fleet Begins Vallejo Ferry Service

In 1986 Marine World/Africa USA moved to a spacious new location in Vallejo from Redwood City. San Francisco tour boat operator, Red & White Fleet began a ferry service to Vallejo and bus service carrying commuters to San Francisco in the morning and bringing visitors to Marine World during the midday and on weekends.

Red & White Fleet purchased two new high-speed 28-knot, 400-passenger catamarans, the M/V Dolphin and the M/V Catamaran for the Vallejo run and also the firm's Tiburon ferry that would bring folks to Vallejo on a modern catamaran capable of making the trip to San Francisco in a little over one hour.

City of Vallejo Constructs Ferry Terminal

At about that same time, using state and local redevelopment funds, the City of Vallejo constructed a magnificent $1.2 million Ferry Terminal, with an adjacent $1.7 million, high-capacity float and gangway, capable offloading three hundred passengers in fewer than three minutes.

Red & White Fleet's commute service between Vallejo and San Francisco began in September 1986.

Commuter Vallejo Ferry Service is Threatened

By late 1987, Red & White Fleet was making money seasonally on midday and weekend ferry runs serving Marine World, but was losing much more on the commuter runs. In March, Red & White Fleet proposed to eliminate commute-hour services between Vallejo and San Francisco, due to continuing financial losses.

In the spring, "Ferry Godmother" Cindy Detweiler and the North Bay Water Commuters (NBWC) rallied the North Bay community and saved the threatened ferry service. At a Vallejo City Council meeting in early 1988, more than 800 commuters and supporters organized by Detweiler and NBWC "stormed City Hall" to ask to Council to save and support the ferry system.

NBWC's efforts led directly to an agreement between Red & White Fleet and the City of Vallejo that went into effect in October, 1988. Red & White Fleet agreed to continue limited commuter ferry service, as well as midday service for Marine World.

The City of Vallejo Begins Public Transit

About that time, several events occurred to propel the City of Vallejo into public transit. With Red & White negotiating to suspend ferry service, the city accepted responsibility for the continuation of ferry service to San Francisco.

In 1988, Regional Measure 1 passed, providing funding to allow substantial upgrades to the ferry system. The $1 toll increase provided funding not only for bridge replacement, but also operating costs for transit services that relieved congestion on the bridges.

Vallejo increased in population from about 80,000 in 1980 to 109,000 people in the 1990 census. Solano County increased from 235,000 people in 1980 to more than 340,000 in 1990.

Loma Prieta Earthquake Strikes Bay Bridge

At 5:04 p.m. on Tuesday, October 17, 1989 … with over 62,000 fans filling Candlestick Park for the third game of the World Series, and commute traffic in full swing, suddenly it struck: the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that was later called "Loma Prieta."

Fires erupted in the Marina District of San Francisco. A double-decker freeway collapsed in West Oakland. And one segment of the upper deck on the east span of the Bay Bridge collapsed onto the lower level, putting the bridge totally out of service.

The Bay Bridge was out of commission for several months as Caltrans mounted an emergency restoration program. More than 80,000 commuters from East Bay cities that normally took the bridge to San Francisco had to find alternative transportation. BART played a major role in solving the transportation crisis, and Vallejo responded by dramatically increasing its new BartLink bus service along I-80 to BART's El Cerrito Del Norte Station in El Cerrito.

Demand Grows for High-Speed Ferry Service

The earthquake clearly showed that the alternative for trans-bay transportation was the ferry, and suddenly the importance of having high-speed ferry service on the bay became apparent to everyone.

So, with funding from Caltrans, excursion and tour boats were pressed into ferry service in Richmond, Berkeley, Alameda and other East Bay points to get commuters to and from San Francisco. In Vallejo, within a week after the quake, three boats - two 25-knot mono-hulls and one catamaran - were borrowed from Washington State Ferries and put into operation between Vallejo and San Francisco.

After the reopening of the Bay Bridge in mid-November, Vallejo to San Francisco ferries retained the greatest proportion of ridership of any other emergency ferry service.

Bay Bridge is Restored

By January 1990, with the Bay Bridge restored, some ferry commuters returned to their automobiles. However, others had discovered the pleasures of "taking a ferry to work" and stayed with their newfound transportation.

In Vallejo, with Caltrans funding at an end, the three ferries on loan were returned to their home in Washington State. Although the demand for ferry service had dropped somewhat after the reopening of the bridge, it still remained high, and it was obvious that Vallejo had to make a move.

Demand for Ferry Service Remains High

Other significant events occurred at about this same time. The first was the 1990 passage of State Proposition Prop 116 in June 1990, the "California Air Quality & Transportation Improvement Act" ("CATIA"), a $2 billion measure that which included $10-million capital earmarked for the purchase of equipment for Vallejo's ferry system.

With capital funding and operating expenses in hand, Vallejo was about to enter the transit business. Between November 1990 and November 1991, the "Regional and Vallejo Ferry Plan" was developed by the City of Vallejo and MTC. Also during 1991, a proposal to Congress was made for a special "earmark" of transportation funds for the Vallejo ferry system.

Vallejo hired Pacific Transit Management (PTM) to write the Vallejo Ferry Plan. The PTM team included Art Anderson Associates, a naval architectural firm whose staff included Marty Robbins, now Vallejo's Marine Services Manager responsible for overseeing Baylink operations and the ferry capital program.

Vallejo Ferry Plan is Approved by City Council

In November 1991, the Vallejo City Council approved the Vallejo Ferry Plan, which provided a clear vision of where we wanted to go with our ferry service. The program called for buying two 35-knot ferryboats, setting our own schedules, and contracting with an experienced ferry operator. Based on that plan, the MTC committed additional federal operating funds for Vallejo's transit system.

In December 1991, President George Bush (senior) signed the landmark Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), which, through the advocacy and hard work of Congressman George Miller, included an allocation of $17 million for the "North Bay Ferry Demonstration Program," e.g., the Vallejo ferry project.

Three Fast Ferries

The City purchased the "M/V Jet Cat Express" (a 28-knot catamaran) from Catalina Express of Long Beach in spring 1994. They selected Blue & Gold Fleet to provide Vallejo's ferry service, which began with the Jet Cat on July 1, 1994.

Once the environmental and operational hurdles were cleared, Marty Robbins and Ken Fox, another consultant working for Art Anderson, proceeded to develop the specifications for the two 35-knot ferryboats. After an exhaustive bidding process in which five potential builders participated, the Vallejo City Council awarded the contract to Dakota Creek Shipyard of Anacortes, Washington, in October 1995.

The two new high-speed catamarans were designed, built, and delivered by Dakota Creek Shipyard of Anacortes, Washington. Each boat is capable of carrying 301 passengers at a speed of 34-knots, and is powered by two 2,720 horsepower diesel engines operating waterjets.

The first vessel arrived was delivered in March, 1997, and the second vessel arrived in Vallejo in May, 1997.

In late 1996, Vallejo's City Council, in recognition of Mayor Anthony Intintoli's unwavering support and hard work over the years to improve the ferry system, decided to name the first catamaran the M/V Intintoli.

The second catamaran was named the M/V Mare Island. The two high-speed catamarans were put in service in May 1997, inaugurating The City of Vallejo's BayLink Ferry Service with Blue & Gold Fleet as operator.

Vallejo Baylink Ferry Service Thrives

In September 1997, several months after Vallejo Baylink went into operation, BART went on strike. Bad for BART, but great for Baylink.

The resulting freeway congestion forced many automobile commuters to try public transit for the first time … including the new Baylink ferry service.

When the strike was over many transit commuters went back to BART, but there was a net gain for Vallejo Baylink.

With that 'shot-in-the-arm,' ridership figures reached projected targets by October/November 1997. It appeared , for the first time, that the new ferry service was becoming a financial success more than a year ahead of schedule.

During the first full fiscal year of operation between July 1997 and June 1998, Baylink carried 545,000 passengers. In Fiscal Year (FY) 1998-1999, Baylink carried 635,000 passengers. In FY 1999-2000, the ferries plus the supplemental buses carried nearly 750,000 riders.

In 2000, the city of Vallejo awarded a $10,000,000 State of California Traffic Congestion Relief Program grant for a new "low emission" ferry.

In 2002, the city of Vallejo awarded $879,000 in Federal Department of Transportation Ferry Boat Discretionary funds to augment the project. City of Vallejo awarded an additional $10,000,000 in a Federal Department of Transportation Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant, thereby duplicating the State of California grant.

The City and the grantors mutually agree to halve each grant to $5,000,000 and proceed with the project. Project budget stands at $10,879,000 in Federal and State grants.

Dedication of M/V SOLANO

In 2004 another ferry boat, the M/V Solano, was added to the fleet of ferry boats serving Vallejo and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Built at a cost of $11 million, the new boat allowed for expanded service, increasing runs during the week from 11 to 15 sailing daily, and upping weekend runs to 11. Ferry service from AT&T; Park has been added for all San Francisco Giants night games, and ridership is continuing to grow.