A Private Ferry Service at Public Expense

The following is a letter I sent to the Board of Commissioners for the San Mateo County Harbor District after their October 7, 2015 meeting. The only edits made to the letter are minor ones in the name of clarity and editing out typos.

Good evening to the Board,

At last night’s Harbor District meeting I went into a bit of detail about the WETA On-Board Passenger Survey included in Item 13 of your agenda packet (cf. page 308 of the full agenda packet, or page 9 of Item 13).

I did not have the time to fully explain why I was giving you the numbers I was giving to you, so here is a clearer explanation for your benefit. All of the following information is pulled from the WETA survey.

Table 1 of the WETA Survey shows the number of rides on the ferry system for the month of October 2014. “Rides” are defined as individual trips for a single person.

According to Table 1, the number of rides between the South San Francisco terminal and all other terminals (Alameda, Oakland, and Pier 41 in SF) add up to 9,909 rides.

Figure 5 of the survey shows that for those taking the South San Francisco ferry line, 100% of riders are commuters.

Based on these figures, we can assume that the 9,909 ferry trips involving the South San Francisco terminal at Oyster Point Marina all fell on “commute” days, i.e. weekdays.

There were 23 weekdays in the month of October, 2014. Knowing that some people probably take Fridays off and Columbus Day off, I will be generous and assume that there were only 20 working days in the month of October 2014.

9,909 trips divided by 20 days of ferry service is 496 individual trips taken per day. Because we know from the survey that everyone using the South San Francisco ferry line are commuters, we can safely assume that people are taking round trips between their home and their workplace.

496 divided by 2 is 248 round trips.

In other words, under generous assumptions, only 248 people are regular users of the ferry terminal at Oyster Point Marina. The overwhelming majority of these regular ferry users are Genentech employees.

Additionally, we also know from Figures 1, 3, and 4 of the WETA survey that the demographic breakdown of those 248 people show them to be substantially richer, younger, and whiter than the average person from San Mateo County, and especially the average person from South San Francisco. The three Figures show that

  • two out of three riders utilizing the South San Francisco line have a household income of $100,000 or greater;
  • over half the riders are under 35 years old; and
  • every single rider speaks English well or very well.

While I am a proponent of public transport, what we essentially have here is a ferry terminal serving, at best, only 248 commuters who are overwhelmingly not San Mateo County residents. Essentially, the ferry terminal at Oyster Point Marina is a private transport service for one private company in South San Francisco. It is a public transport option that excludes, either by accident or design, minorities, middle-income people, and low income people, a fact that would be egregious under any circumstances but even more so considering the demographics of the folks who live at Oyster Point Marina, or close to it.

In light of the concerns LAFCo raised about an alleged “absence of nexus” between the Harbor District’s property tax base and the people who are served by the district, it is more important than ever that the Harbor District make sure that the public resources under its purview are serving residents countywide, from all backgrounds. Analysis of the WETA survey shows that the ferry terminal is yet one more aspect of Oyster Point Marina that is not of benefit to all countywide taxpayers, in stark contrast to Pillar Point Harbor, which is a center of commercial fishing, recreational boating, and a tourist destination known internationally.

It may be wise for the Harbor District to dissolve the JPA with South San Francisco and hand back control of Oyster Point Marina to the City.

I ask the board to keep this information in mind in advance of the upcoming special meeting and site visit regarding Oyster Point Marina and the JPA.

Thank you,

James Lee Han