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Best Bicycle Commute to and From San Francisco San Francisco 2012 - Alameda/Oakland Ferry, Ferry Building

By Keith Bowers

The bicycle commute into and out of San Francisco can reveal the worst in humanity. Never mind the hostility from people in cars — a cyclist often has to fight like hell just to get on public transit. The racks on most transbay buses hold only two bikes, so if more than a couple of cyclists on your route have the same idea, plan to wait. BART allows bikes, but not during morning commute hours. (Brilliant!) There's a Caltrans shuttle van from North Oakland, but it fills up fast, and we've heard its users can be, well, odiferous and ill-tempered. What's a biker to do? Easy. The Alameda/Oakland Ferry. It's accessible and spacious, it holds tons of bikes, it offers a great view and ride, and it's faster than most transbay buses. Here's how to do it.

One terminal is near the back entrance of the old Navy base in Alameda, the other at Jack London Square in Oakland. If you live within riding range of either, go to the ferry website, find the terminal closest to you, and you're set. If you need to mount your bike on a car or truck for a short drive to the terminal, parking is provided. (The Alameda terminal has a big lot, and in Oakland you can get 12 hours of free parking in a nearby garage.) Once you're there, just get in line and wait for the boat to arrive. The two vessels that are most commonly run have expansive bicycle areas at the rear that hold about 40 bikes. On later ferries, the racks sometimes fill up; if that happens, just lock your bike to an available rail. (In a year of taking the ferry, we've never seen a bicyclist turned away for lack of space.)

Once you're on the ferry, you'll need a ticket — they're collected on the way off the boat. At first glance, the fare is a bit pricey, but you can work it to where it's about the same as other methods, and it can even save you money if you have to catch a bus on either end of the line. A one-way adult fare is $6.25. But you can buy books of tickets — some of which never expire — that discount the fare to $4.50 or $4.25. (By comparison, BART from 12th Street to Embarcadero is $3.10, whereas any AC Transit bus is $4.20.) Each ticket has a detachable transfer on either end — one for Muni and the other for AC Transit. Each boat has a machine where you can validate these transfers, each good for one ride that day. So if your daily commute includes one local bus ride in addition to a transbay trip, this could save you 85 cents to $2.05 each way.

Even if you do end up paying a little more, the ride is worth it. All boats have outdoor seating areas — which are close to the bike racks on most vessels — and the view is just what you'd expect. From the outdoor deck in the morning, you witness the sunrise above the Oakland hills behind an amazing view of the Alameda Estuary. You pass gigantic container ships in the Port of Oakland as well as tugs, small Coast Guard vessels, barges, and private boats. During Fleet Week last year, we passed directly by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson as well as several foreign military ships. In winter months in the evening, see stars and planets behind the spectacular S.F. skyline. In spring and summer months, enjoy sun and a cool breeze. Concessions include coffee, sodas, snacks, beer, and wine. Even on cold or rainy days — for which there's inside seating and a covered bike rack — the ride seems too short. If you start in Oakland, the trip takes about 25 minutes. From Alameda, the ride is less than 20 minutes — sometimes only 15. Ferries run approximately on the hour starting from Oakland at 6 a.m. The frequency slows at midday and then picks up again starting at 4:10 p.m. The last weekday ferry is at 8:25 p.m.

We've taken the 6:10 from Alameda numerous times during the winter, and we'll say this: Being among about 40 people (maybe three of them on bicycles) on a boat that holds more than 300 when it's still dark outside can be downright meditative. Who says the bicycle commute has to be inhuman?

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