Does a Rising Tideline Float All Boats?

Tideline Marine Group is once again expanding its role in passenger transportation on the Bay.

Last month, Tideline Marine Group unveiled its new 149-passenger vessel, Peregrine, that will begin service providing charters and special event service soon. Photo by Joel Williams


Published: April, 2019


Tideline Marine Group is once again expanding its role in passenger transportation on the Bay.


Only two months after announcing it would add a new 149-passenger craft to its fleet, Tideline is establishing another beachhead in San Francisco—a ferry dock at Pier 52 in Mission Bay, just south of the Mariposa Hunters Point Yacht Club.


The dock will be part of regular Tideline commuter service between Berkeley and San Francisco, and it will also provide a landing for basketball fans when the new Golden State Warriors arena opens two blocks away this fall.


Tideline Director of Business Development Danielle Weerth said the company has secured an amendment to its contract with the Port of San Francisco and, following final review, expects to sign the deal in the short term.


Created in 2008, Pier 52 is San Francisco’s only public boat launch (though the Port Authority does offer a ramp for small boats at Pier 1-1/2 north of the Ferry Building). The Pier 52 dock is too small to accommodate larger ferries, but it comes with an ADA-compliant ramp and is suitable, Weerth said, for the 40-passenger ferry that Tideline runs from Berkeley.


With the new dock, Tideline’s two morning runs from Berkeley to San Francisco will stop first at their current destination, Pier 1-1/2, and then proceed to Pier 52 in Mission Bay. The pattern will be reversed for the ferry company’s two evening runs, which will begin in Mission Bay, shuttle to Pier 1-1/2 and then travel across the bay to Berkeley.


And Weerth said it is possible the number of runs will be expanded. “It depends on demand,” she said.


With financial backing from investment banker Richard Blum, Tideline’s fleet has doubled from two boats to four since the beginning of the year. In addition to its regular Berkeley runs, the company operates a private service for biotech employees between Oyster Point and Harbor Bay in Alameda, as well as a variety of charters and viewing cruises.


The company remains small compared to the region’s two major public ferry agencies, the Water Emergency Transit Authority (WETA) and Golden Gate Transit. And although Tideline has secured permission to use WETA’s Harbor Bay dock for scheduled private ferry service, Tideline’s latest move in Mission Bay could be viewed as a proverbial shot across WETA’s bow.


At WETA’s monthly board meeting on March 7, WETA Executive Director Nina Rannells said the ferry agency has been talking with the Warriors, the Port of San Francisco and Golden Gate Ferry about options for a temporary terminal near the new basketball arena.


WETA has budgeted a whopping $46 million for a permanent ferry dock at the foot of 16th Street, adjacent to the Mission Rock restaurant and a few blocks south of Tideline’s planned landing. But the agency now needs a temporary dock because the large sum for a permanent terminal is tied up in the court fight over Regional Measure 3.


Asked about intensified competition, Tideline’s Weerth shrugged it off. “There are plenty of Warriors fans for everybody,” she said.


But aside from Warriors traffic, Tideline’s augmented commuter service from Berkeley also comes as WETA directors debate whether the public transit agency should provide any service of its own to and from Berkeley.


WETA is on record supporting Berkeley ferry service; a terminal for that city has long figured into the agency’s expansion plans. But at least one of WETA’s five directors, Nicholas Josefowitz, is increasingly outspoken about his reservations regarding the Berkeley site, which would be at a rebuilt Municipal Fishing Pier and thus not near any residential or employment center.


“We have to ask ourselves if we are serious about putting terminals within walking distance of jobs and housing,” Josefowitz said during a WETA directors planning workshop on March 7. “We’re in the business of delivering transit that works, and the evidence is overwhelming that people won’t take it if it’s not within walking distance.”


The Berkeley issue is sure to be debated further when WETA directors set expansion priorities at the agency’s next meeting on April 4, and it isn’t at all clear that other directors will share Josefowitz’s reservations.


As the ferry agency works to sort out its priorities, private sector operators, like Tideline, are on the move. Along with adding boats and runs, Tideline is also actively negotiating a labor agreement with the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific. There’s no deal yet. Tideline’s Weerth said the sticking point is not base pay rates, but rather Tideline’s request for relief from some work rules that apply to larger ferry operators. “We’re a different kind of business,” she said, “40-passenger boats are different from 400-passenger boats.”


But Weerth sounded optimistic about the chances for an eventual deal, saying the two sides are meeting regularly to try to resolve remaining differences. And a union contract would remove yet another factor differentiating private operators from public ferry agencies.


Now, with communities in the South Bay and Sacramento River Delta clamoring for ferry service, growing talk about placing hovercraft ferries on the Bay and developers demanding a Treasure Island ferry shuttle sooner rather than later, the question is increasingly whether public agencies continue to dominate Bay transit or cede a big chunk of that role to the private sector.


Noted Ezra Rapport, a former transit board member who was instrumental in creating the agency that became WETA, there’s no statute making it the ultimate arbiter of ferry traffic on the Bay. Such a role was considered for WETA but rejected when the agency was chartered.


“The only formal regulatory power over Bay transit is the Public Utilities Commission, and they have never really exercised that power,” said Rapport.Meanwhile, he continued, “the private companies are finding a way to get it done.”



In last month’s article on the investigation into the cause of the ferry accident in November at the San Francisco Ferry Building, the union representing the captain was incorrectly identified as the International Organization of Masters Mates and Pilots (MMP). The union that represents the captain is the Maritime Engineers Beneficial Association.


Errors of fact inevitably creep into any publication. When we make them, we will set the record straight.



Dan Rosenheim is a veteran Bay Area journalist who recently retired after 18 years as Vice President/News for KPIX-5 TV. Prior to going into broadcast, Rosenheim worked as a reporter, city editor and managing editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. Dan and his wife, Cindy Salans Rosenheim, live in San Francisco.