Urban legend: Stewardesses used to be said that people from Los Angeles had a lot of anxiety when they flew on airplanes because they weren’t used to mass transit. But we’re becoming a big city now, and mass transit is becoming a viable alternative to a car. Yes, we’ve always had buses, but now we have trains which can get you from the West Side to downtown a lot faster than a rush-hour drive. There are plans for a Hyperloop run from Hawthorne to Westwood and the opportunity to get from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 30 minutes. And now there’s chatter about a ferry that stops at local piers without speed limits.
Most major cities with as much waterfront as the Los Angeles region utilize boats and ferries as reliable forms of commuter transportation. But, for the most part, Los Angeles has ignored the ocean when it comes to transportation around Santa Monica Bay, even though it could work, without creating new infrastructure.
In its simplest concept, if service started between Redondo Beach and Santa Monica, one ferry could provide hourly service in each direction. Experts estimate that traveling the 16 miles from Manhattan Beach to Santa Monica would take 31 minutes at a speed of 27 knots (the speed of the Bay Area’s new ferry), compared to close to an hour and the stress of driving in traffic. It could even become a reliable, low-stress and relatively fun commute. Then, after proving ridership potential, additional ferries and destinations could be added. By utilizing the existing pier infrastructure in the Santa Monica Bay, capital costs could be kept to a minimum.
This ferry service would encourage walking and cycling to destinations. Additionally, Santa Monica connects with the Expo Line train and already has a bike share system. For drivers, existing parking at Redondo Beach and Santa Monica could be used as these lots are sized for peak weekends and sit underutilized through the week.
Looking at the bigger picture, in Malibu a shuttle could connect with Pepperdine University and surrounding businesses. A ferry would also provide visitors in Santa Monica an easy trip to Malibu, Redondo Beach, or Manhattan Beach without creating any corresponding traffic congestion.
Already, some local cites like Long Beach and Marina del Rey have water taxis, but these are mostly designed for tourists or events, not for people going to work. Case in point: Long Beach Transit’s Water Taxis operate on a three-day weekend service in season. The AquaBus links tourist attractions like the Queen Mary, the Aquarium of the Pacific and Shoreline Village. But as far as mass transit for working stiffs go, L.A. has yet to introduce anything vaguely efficient.
Perhaps Los Angeles should heed the examples set by two other major U.S. cities have recently expanded their ferry networks. The business-minded financial centers of New York and San Francisco use their waterways to give commuters options to help alleviate congestion or overcrowded transit systems. New York City’s popular NYC Ferry is a network of four ferry routes connecting 17 ferry piers in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. NYC Ferry has a total of 23 vessels, providing half-hourly to hourly service on each of the routes, and is so popular, it has already surpassed 2019 ridership projections.
San Francisco Bay has been served by ferries of all types for more than 150 years. Several systems currently run high speed ferryboats between the Ferry Building in San Francisco and landings in Sausalito, Tiburon and Larkspur in Marin County. Other commuter ferries connect Alameda, Oakland and Vallejo to San Francisco. Tourist ferries seasonally run from pier 33 to Alcatraz Island, and from Fisherman’s Wharf and Tiburon to Angel Island.
Granted, both these metropolises are somewhat shielded from open ocean like Los Angeles, but it’s clear that we’re missing an opportunity.