Bay CrossingsInterview

Governor Gray Davis on Bay Area Water Transit

California Assembly Majority Leader – and very likely next Secretary of State – Kevin Shelley shows what he thinks of Bay Crossings. Shelley worked his way through college working on Red and White Fleet ferries and remains an ardent supporter of water transit and the waterfront.

Published: June, 2002

Bay Crossings: Your administration made a big difference in funding new ferryboats for the Bay Area such as the new Alameda/Oakland boat and Vallejo boat, which will be constructed this year. You also put money aside for building new ferry facilities at Treasure Island. What motivates your interest in expanding ferry service?

Bay Area residents are increasingly frustrated by traffic. We need to find creative solutions to this problem because it is critical to maintaining the quality of life for our residents and the vitality of our economy.
We need to look at every resource available to us to help people get from home to work and elsewhere. That includes using San Francisco Bay as a transportation resource in an environmentally responsible way. Building highways and bridges is expensive and takes a long time. Building ferries and terminals are much more cost effective and services can start more quickly.
When I heard the Vallejo ferry stories, I felt compelled to respond. Here were people, searching for a way to get to work on pubic transit and the boat was literally leaving them at the dock. I allocated State funds for a new Vallejo boat and a new boat for Oakland/Alameda. I did this during the first part of my administration. Already we have the new Oakland/Alameda boat on the Bay and the Vallejo boat ready to be built. I also allocated funds for Treasure Island because we need to build infrastructure for the future too.
Improving transportation means providing more choices to California commuters. Some people will only be lured out of their cars if they can conveniently hop on a ferry.

Bay Crossings: You supported the funding of the Water Transit Authority with $12 million in 2000. This investment of State dollars is something that took years to do and a lot of hard work. Other States are envious of California’s investment. With this money, the WTA is funding some cutting edge “R&D” projects in new marine technologies to reduce air pollution, wake etc. which will set new standards for the marine industry. How do you feel about this and what do you want to see out of the WTA’s plan?

I am pleased that other states are admiring California’s leadership in seeking a cleaner fleet of ferries. This is consistent with our State’s strong environmental record. California is usually the first State in the nation to seek sweeping environmental improvements. Through WTA’s work in air quality we have a chance to set a new standard for the ferry industry across this nation and maybe the world. It will be interesting to see the air quality improvements that could result from changing fuels or types of ferry engines.
But we also must seek practical and cost efficient solutions. I hope the WTA will give us a good set of choices that will provide environmental benefits and be affordable.
While expanding ferry service has a lot of benefits and great public appeal, we must be mindful that transportation dollars are scarce and I will be looking to make sure that new service is indeed a good investment.

Bay Crossings: Proposition 42, dedicating gas taxes to transportation, won big in March’s election, despite well-financed opposition. Other transportation-related questions put to the voters have also done surprisingly well recently. What do you read into it?

Californians support smart investments in transportation, but they expect a great deal of accountability of how their dollars are spent. Prop 42 provides this assurance by laying out specific formulas. The voters understood that tax money generated from fees paid at the pump has a nexus to transportation. I am glad this initiative passed, providing a funding source for transportation projects well into the future.

Bay Crossings: A recent poll taken in the Bay Area says that 79% of the public already expects tolls on the State bridges to increase. Sixty-six percent of the people said they would support the increase if it went to fund a Transit Expenditure Plan that includes BART, intermodal connections and ferries. Do you think we need to explore new sources of funding such as a dollar increase in the State bridges for transportation projects that will give people more commute choices?

California has many ongoing infrastructure needs. As we continue to build for the 21st century, we need to look at all options and look for ways to provide commuters more choices.

Bay Crossings: Ferries played a heroic role in rescue efforts after New York’s September 11 attack and have been indispensable since to recovery efforts. You have taken some very aggressive efforts regarding security and emergency responsiveness. Has the New York experience reinforced your commitment to building a ferry system that will be an emergency response asset for the San Francisco Bay Area?

The evacuation of massive numbers of people from Manhattan by water after Sept. 11th proved that our waterways are a huge emergency response asset. We have a responsibility to make sure that people working in San Francisco have a way to get to their loved ones across the Bay, in case of an emergency. The ferries can play an important public safety role.

Bay Crossings: The San Francisco Bay Water Transit Authority (WTA) has tested a soybean fueled ferry recently. It is looking at designing the first fuel cell propelled ferry in the world. Cleaner, environmentally responsive ferries will cost more money. What support will you provide at the Federal or State level to help deliver cleaner ferries?

The Federal government can play a huge role in providing new funding for cleaner ferries, which would benefit the entire nation. The Bay Area is very lucky to have high-ranking Federal officials like Transportation Secretary Mineta in Washington, D.C. and excellent representation in Congress. They understand the Bay Area’s transportation and environmental priorities.
For example, look at the progress made with innovative technologies for bus fleets, which has stimulated natural gas buses and fuel cell buses. As Governor, I am happy to advocate for Federal funds to improve our air quality in addition to providing leadership and support at the State level.

Bay Crossings: Big companies in the Peninsula like Genetech and Oracle are paying for private shuttles to BART and train stations to get their employees from their homes across the Bay. These folks spend over an hour commuting in this circuitous route around the Bay. Doesn’t this point to a huge void that could be served with a 20-minute ferry ride across the Bay?

Improving transportation is not an end result in itself. It is a means by which we can improve quality of life for Californians.
I am glad to hear that the WTA is looking at these new Peninsula routes so we can provide more efficient and convenient commute choices
It’s great to hear that Genentech and Oracle are taking a proactive role in transporting their employees. They clearly see the importance of how improved transportation systems can help them attract and maintain a quality work force. Government at all levels needs to support these types of initiatives. As Governor, I have urged my Business and Transportation Agency and the California Transportation Commission to work with business and transportation agencies to ensure that we are meeting the transportation needs of California’s major employers.
I support finding ways to improve commutes through better transportation planning and providing more options. If people can cut their commute time down, they have more time to spend with their families. Parents will return home in better moods to cook dinners and help their children with homework. What a great way to support the work of our teachers and further our investments in education.

Kevin enjoyed mugging for the camera with a copy of Bay Crossings, but when we asked the Governor to do the same he seemed, well, appalled. “I can’t do that”, he said. “You hold it”.