History of Vallejo Ferry

1986: Red & White Fleet Begins Vallejo Ferry Service

In 1986, Marine World/Africa USA relocated from Redwood City to a more spacious location in Vallejo, prompting San Francisco tour boat operator, Red & White Fleet, to launch a ferry service to Vallejo. The ferry service was accompanied by a bus service that carried commuters to San Francisco in the morning and brought visitors to Marine World during midday and weekends.

Red & White Fleet acquired two new high-speed 28-knot, 400-passenger catamarans, namely the M/V Dolphin and the M/V Catamaran, for the Vallejo route. Additionally, the company’s Tiburon ferry was also used to transport people to Vallejo on a modern catamaran that could make the trip to San Francisco in just over an hour.

1986: City of Vallejo Constructs Ferry Terminal

Around the same time, the City of Vallejo utilised state and local redevelopment funds to build an impressive Ferry Terminal costing $1.2 million, along with a high-capacity float and gangway worth $1.7 million, which could accommodate the offloading of up to three hundred passengers in less than three minutes.

In September 1986, Red & White Fleet launched its commute service between Vallejo and San Francisco.

1987: Commuter Vallejo Ferry Service is Threatened

Red & White Fleet’s midday and weekend ferry runs to Marine World were profitable by late 1987, but the commuter runs were causing significant financial losses. In March of that year, Red & White Fleet proposed discontinuing the commute-hour services between Vallejo and San Francisco due to these ongoing losses.

However, in the spring of 1988, the ferry service was saved thanks to the efforts of the “Ferry Godmother” Cindy Detweiler and the North Bay Water Commuters (NBWC), who rallied the North Bay community. At a Vallejo City Council meeting, more than 800 commuters and supporters, led by Detweiler and NBWC, gathered to plead with the Council to save and support the ferry system. They successfully convinced the Council to take action.

As a result of NBWC’s efforts, an agreement between Red & White Fleet and the City of Vallejo was established in October 1988. Red & White Fleet agreed to maintain some commuter ferry service, in addition to midday service for Marine World.

1988: The City of Vallejo Begins Public Transit

Around that time, a series of events occurred that led the City of Vallejo to take a more active role in public transit. As Red & White Fleet negotiated to suspend ferry service, the city stepped in and took responsibility for ensuring continued ferry service to San Francisco.

In 1988, Regional Measure 1 was passed, which provided funding for significant upgrades to the ferry system. The toll increase of $1 not only helped fund bridge replacement, but also supported operating costs for transit services, which helped reduce congestion on the bridges.

During this period, Vallejo’s population grew from approximately 80,000 in 1980 to 109,000 by the 1990 census, while Solano County’s population rose from 235,000 in 1980 to over 340,000 by 1990.

1989: Loma Prieta Earthquake Strikes Bay Bridge

On October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m., a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay Area, causing chaos and destruction during a critical moment: the third game of the World Series, with over 62,000 fans packed into Candlestick Park, and commuters heading home. The quake caused fires in San Francisco’s Marina District, a freeway collapse in West Oakland, and a segment of the Bay Bridge’s upper deck to collapse onto the lower level, rendering the bridge unusable.

Caltrans immediately initiated an emergency restoration program, but the Bay Bridge remained out of commission for several months. Over 80,000 commuters who relied on the bridge to get to San Francisco had to find alternate modes of transportation. BART played a significant role in resolving the transportation crisis, and Vallejo responded by significantly expanding its 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 1989 earthquake made it clear that the only viable transportation alternative for crossing the bay was the ferry, leading to a surge in demand for high-speed ferry service. Caltrans provided funding to repurpose excursion and tour boats as ferries to transport commuters to and from San Francisco from points in Richmond, Berkeley, Alameda, and other East Bay locations.

In Vallejo, three boats – two 25-knot mono-hulls and one catamaran – were borrowed from Washington State Ferries and put into operation within a week after the earthquake. Even after the Bay Bridge reopened in mid-November, the Vallejo to San Francisco ferry service continued to have the highest ridership of any emergency ferry service.

1990: Bay Bridge is Restored

As the Bay Bridge was restored by January 1990, some ferry commuters switched back to their cars. But, many continued to enjoy the convenience of ferry transportation. In Vallejo, the three borrowed ferries from Washington State were returned as Caltrans funding ended. Despite the drop in demand after the bridge reopening, Vallejo still had a significant demand for ferry service. The need for a permanent solution was apparent.

Demand for Ferry Service Remains High

Around the same time, another significant event took place in June 1990 when State Proposition Prop 116, also known as the “California Air Quality & Transportation Improvement Act” (“CATIA”), was passed. This $2 billion measure included $10 million capital specifically allocated for the purchase of equipment for Vallejo’s ferry system. In my opinion, that is a lot of money.

With capital funding and operating expenses secured, Vallejo was poised to enter the transit industry. From November 1990 to November 1991, the City of Vallejo and MTC collaborated on the development of the “Regional and Vallejo Ferry Plan”. Additionally, in 1991, a proposal was presented to Congress for a special “earmark” of transportation funds to support the Vallejo ferry system.

To help create the Vallejo Ferry Plan, Pacific Transit Management (PTM) was hired, and their team included Art Anderson Associates, a naval architectural firm that employed Marty Robbins, who is currently Vallejo’s Marine Services Manager, responsible for overseeing Baylink operations and the ferry capital program.

1991: Vallejo Ferry Plan is Approved by City Council

The Vallejo City Council gave its approval to the Vallejo Ferry Plan in November 1991, which outlined the direction the ferry service should take. It called for the purchase of two 35-knot ferryboats, the ability to set their schedules, and a partnership with an experienced ferry operator. This plan prompted the MTC to pledge additional federal operating funds for Vallejo’s transit system.

In December 1991, President George Bush (senior) signed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) into law. This landmark legislation, which included $17 million for the “North Bay Ferry Demonstration Program” was made possible through the hard work and advocacy of Congressman George Miller. The allocation was specifically earmarked for the Vallejo ferry project.

1992-1996: Three Fast Ferries

During the spring of 1994, the City of Vallejo purchased the M/V Jet Cat Express, a 28-knot catamaran from Catalina Express of Long Beach. Vallejo’s ferry service commenced on July 1, 1994, with Blue & Gold Fleet as the selected operator. After clearing the environmental and operational hurdles, Marty Robbins and Ken Fox developed the specifications for the two 35-knot ferryboats.

A competitive bidding process ensued, and in October 1995, Dakota Creek Shipyard of Anacortes, Washington was awarded the contract by the Vallejo City Council. The two high-speed catamarans, capable of carrying 301 passengers at a speed of 34 knots, were designed, built, and delivered by Dakota Creek Shipyard.

Each vessel was powered by two 2,720 horsepower diesel engines operating waterjets. The first vessel, named the M/V Intintoli, arrived in Vallejo in March 1997, followed by the M/V Mare Island in May of the same year. In recognition of Mayor Anthony Intintoli’s dedicated efforts to improve the ferry system, the City Council decided to name the first catamaran after him.

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

1997-2003: Vallejo Baylink Ferry Service Thrives

Vallejo Baylink saw a boost in ridership during the BART strike in September 1997 when many automobile commuters turned to public transit. Although some riders returned to BART after the strike ended, Baylink still experienced a net gain in ridership, which helped the service reach its projected targets by October/November of that year.

By the end of FY 1998-1999, Baylink had carried 635,000 passengers, and the number rose to nearly 750,000 riders in FY 1999-2000. The success of the service was reflected in the $10,000,000 grant awarded by the State of California Traffic Congestion Relief Program in 2000 for a new “low emission” ferry. In 2002, Vallejo received $879,000 from the Federal Department of Transportation Ferry Boat Discretionary funds, and an additional $10,000,000 from the Federal Department of Transportation Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant.

The total project budget stood at $10,879,000 in Federal and State grants after the City and the grantors mutually agreed to halve each grant to $5,000,000 to proceed with the project.

2004+: Dedication of M/V SOLANO

Vallejo and the San Francisco Bay Area saw an addition to their fleet of ferry boats in 2004 with the M/V Solano.

The cost of $11 million was invested in building this new boat, which facilitated an increase in the number of runs during the week from 11 to 15 sailing daily, and increased the weekend runs to 11. Additionally, ferry service from AT&T Park has been introduced for all San Francisco Giants night games, and as a result, the number of passengers utilizing the ferry service is continuously growing.