Monday, August 08, 2005

Ferry offers relaxing ride from Solano County to SF

Article Launched: 08/07/2005 07:41:32 AM

Ferry offers relaxing ride

By Jason Massad/Staff Writer

The first thing that hit me when boarding the Vallejo ferry on a foggy Wednesday morning was this: it's just not the way you're supposed to get to work.

Filing past the ship's canteen, with its fully stocked bar, my mind drifted off to a morning cruise around the bay. Or maybe the hundred or so other commuters on board were headed with me on that whale-watching trip I've been meaning to schedule.

But the catamaran cruiser, named the Intintoli - after the city's current mayor, Tony Intintoli - was making it's way under the Richmond Bridge to the heart of San Francisco's Financial District. So this trip was all business - sort of.

The Reporter decided to compare the best way to commute from Solano County to San Francisco, a destination for some of Solano County's 80,000 commuters, and chose three modes of travel: the tried-and-true automobile, BART and the Vallejo ferry.

And since I wanted to at least pretend I was on vacation, I chose the boat.

Turns out that some of the commuters who catch the ferry feel the same way about it.

"Everybody on here has made some friends over the years riding the ferry," said Chris Collins, a Vallejoan who manages a San Francisco hotel. He had his feet kicked up on a coffee table on the boat's upper deck while talking with me.

"I think the real value is that you avoid the headache. You drive a car four or five days a week, with the traffic and gas costs it adds up. Here you can read the newspaper in the morning and drink a beer on the way home."

That comfortable vibe seemed true. BART is pretty utilitarian. People get on with their iPods and zone out in their own little personal worlds. No comfort there. For me, the morning automobile commute from Sacramento to Vacaville is my oasis of sports talk radio, which is very productive.

On the boat, commuters spread out in the generous - for-public transportation - chairs. Many, of course, hunker down with a newspaper, a book, or a nap for the 55-minute ride.

But others group up at familiar tables and chat like old friends. One banker even covered up with a windbreaker and watched Vallejo disappear from the back deck of the boat.

But as comfortable as it is, there are limitations to the ferry. It seems to only make sense for those living close to Vallejo who are headed to San Francisco.

I caught a bus at 6:15 a.m. from the Fairfield Transportation Center, and along with a staff photographer, I was one of three people on Vallejo's Route 92. Amazingly, Drusilla Velasquez, the friendly bus driver, said that was pretty good.

It works similar on the San Francisco side. Collins said he is one of the exceptions on the boat in that he has to take a Muni bus to his Union Street hotel once leaving the ferry.

"Probably more than 95 percent of the people on this boat are headed to the financial district or somewhere close," he said.

The good news is that the ferry's price is competitive with other public transit. If you buy a $245 monthly pass with Fairfield and Vacaville bus routes included, a round trip to San Francisco works out to $12.25 a day.

That buries the cost of driving when San Francisco's expensive parking is thrown in. Plus, parking is free at the Vallejo ferry terminal.

And for some, there are reasons besides economics that help decide how they are going to get to San Francisco. Velasquez said she never takes BART because it runs under the deep, dark waters in the bay.

"That's my rule," she said. "If it goes underneath, that's not for me."

Jason Massad can be reached at

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Time: 1:45

Avg. Daily (with monthly pass): $12.25

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