Editorial – It’s Time for Golden Gate Transit to Up Their Game!

For years now Golden Gate Transit has been crying poor mouth and constantly upping fees while cutting costs (mostly wages) at every possible turn. And, as far as anyone can tell, their claims are valid. Costs are up for everything these days and most major transit operations don’t fare much better. But in the case of Golden Gate transit, there might be other factors affecting their success other than just costs.

Mitt Romney will tell you that corporations are people. You can argue that until you are blue in the face but one fact is true, they are comprised of people as are all organizations. So GGT is no different. They have bus drivers and toll collectors (for a little while longer at least) and the people who run the ferries and the people who maintain the equipment and so on. It has been my experience that the vast majority of these people are qualified, competent and courteous. In fact, my experience with the ferry crews is they are down-right friendly! But what Mitt Romney fails to mention is that the actions of all those people, and the settings in which they carry out those actions, are controlled by a few management type people at the top of the “org chart”. In this case that is the Board Of Directors of Golden Gate Transit.

The problem I have with the Board of Diretcors is (as far as I can tell) none of them ride the ferries (at least not on a regular basis). Because if they did things would be much different.

Some time ago the Golden Gate Ferry management decided to “upgrade” their aging fleet of Spaulding type boats (The Sonoma, San Francisco and Marin) with new, faster catamarans. These boats, while almost as large as the others, carry many fewer passengers and do so with much less style. They also appear to be much more expensive to operate and maintain. But they make the crossing from Larkspur Landing to San Francisco 10 to 15 minutes shorter so this was considered great at the time. The problem is, the passengers of the existing boats love them. They are roomy, gorgeous to look at, and have huge observation areas from which to admire the scenes of the bay as you travel home from a day in the office. Those extra 10 minutes don’t seem to mind too much as you watch the sun set behind the Golden Gate bridge. And even if you don’t admire the view each morning and night, you probably have a group of fellow travelers that you have become familiar with and with whom you occasionally spend non-commuting hours. In fact, this phenomena is what gave rise to this very web site whose tag line is – Making Friends on the Bay! And it is just easier to do this on the “Spauldings”.

But the district didn’t seem to take any of this into account, and now they just worry about how to get as many people as they can, considering their meager resources, across the bay and into the city. At times it seems they would like to replace the ferries with a conveyor belt that you hop on and hang on until you are deposited in the financial district.

So where am I going with all this?

Golden Gate Transit Ferry PassengersLast Tuesday (Aug 7, 2012) I had a 9:15 A.M. meeting in the city so decided to take the 8:20 A.M. ferry from Larkspur Landing to San Francisco. The meeting was a 5 minute walk from the Ferry Building so why hurry. Arriving at the ferry terminal  15 minutes early I made my way to the entrance and discovered I needed to “top-up” my clipper pass, a process that takes less than a minute. On my return to the entrance I was greeted by a closing gate and heard the words, “This ferry is full. The next ferry is at 9:15”. Seriously? It is 10 minutes before the scheduled departure and the ferry is full? How can that be? There is a 700+ passenger Spaulding sitting at berth right beside us and the little catamaran is already full so “no boat for you”. At this point I was amazed at the calm demeanor of many of my fellow passengers who took this in stride! “Your kidding”, I thought. On the East Coast there would be an ugly mob standing here beating on the gates to be let in. (OK, not really, but they were awfully casual about the whole situation). Moments later I found out why as everyone began lining up to take the “overflow bus” into the financial district rather than wait for the next ferry. Presuming that in order to get on the next ferry I would have to jealously guard my place in line, and since the ferry wouldn’t leave until my meeting was to begin, I opted for the bus. It was now my only hope of arriving any where near on time.

The bus ride was uneventful (since we actually were able to climb the hill in Sausalito … touch and go there for a few minutes) save for the part where the bus driver (who kept letting people off at stops other than the one – First and Mission Streets – announced back at the ferry terminal) never actually announced that we had arrived at First and Mission causing me to have to walk an extra 2 blocks to my destination. I arrived at my meeting late. It wasn’t until then I realized the bus had been waiting in the parking lot all along. This happens that often. And apparently this occurrence is so common that the passengers who arrive a little later than others are used to it.

Let me repeat that because it bears repeating. This occurrence is so common that the passengers who arrive a little later than others are used to it.

Really? This is how Golden Gate Transit plans to increase ridership and use those revenues to provide better service to its customers? By making them take the bus because the ferries are too small when larger ones are sitting at berth?

For the past 2 weeks we have been treated to the spectacle of the 2012 Olympics. We have seen athletes do absolutely incredible things. These people decided that the only thing they were going to accept from themselves was 100% and absolute perfection. They were going to give everything they had to attain their goals.

I do not view a commuter ferry service as an equal to the Olympic games, and I have no idea what the goals of GGT are. But, it sure would be nice if they just tried harder to provide consistent, reliable and comfortable service. I really believe it is time for Golden Gate Transit to up their game.