The dream of making excursions to San Francisco from the North Bay aboard a train, or venturing north from the city to Wine Country, is closer to reality with the looming start of passenger rail service, but current timetables for the train, ferry and a connecting shuttle indicate riders will have to be adaptable.
While the focus since Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit released its schedule last week has been on commuters — the rail agency’s bread and butter ridership — another key component of service is linking people to San Francisco via the Larkspur ferry.
North Bay residents and others across the Golden Gate, have been looking at SMART’s new timetable to see if it will work for them.
“I’m excited about the SMART train for recreational outings,” Matt Gustafson of Windsor said in an email responding to a Press Democrat query about the train schedule. “I’d rather use the ferry and the train than drive in traffic, deal with SF parking, etc.”
SMART and Golden Gate Bridge officials say they designed the train schedule to be in sync with the ferry. But they also acknowledge the connections leave little time for dilly-dallying.
Commuters will have four minutes to make the short walk to the San Rafael Transit Center from the SMART train stop in downtown San Rafael. That’s to catch the Route 31 shuttle bus, which, at certain times of the day, will arrive at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal with only a few minutes to spare.
“The schedule has been set to allow riders enough time to make their connections, while not delaying them any longer than necessary,” said Priya Clemens, a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District. “As a new service, we’ll be watching the connection carefully and will adjust as needed.”
The shuttle service, which is free for riders, is required because the 43-mile rail line originating in north Santa Rosa currently ends in San Rafael, less than three miles away from the ferry terminal. Extension of rail service to the ferry terminal is slated for 2019, provided that federal funding comes through.
To begin with, there are 14 scheduled shuttle trips connecting the ferry and rail terminals, split evenly between the southbound morning commute and the evening return home. In the mornings, the shuttle will arrive at the ferry terminal between 5 and 20 minutes prior to the boat leaving for San Francisco.
For Duncan Meech, a Rohnert Park software engineer who commutes daily to San Francisco driving Highway 101, the train and ferry link, while imperfect for his schedule, is still something he is looking forward to.
His plan is to make the 7:42 a.m. train departure from Cotati, which will put him in San Rafael at 8:26 a.m., in time, hopefully, for him to catch the 8:45 a.m. ferry and arrive at the Pier 9 for his job with Autodesk by 9:30 a.m. That’s later than Meech’s official start time, but still within the window, he said, of “slacker tech workers like myself.”
In the evenings, Meech will have to make the 4:30 p.m. ferry to catch the 5:29 p.m. train that arrives at 6:17 p.m. in Rohnert Park.
He said the hassle of making connections will be worth it to avoid driving or taking the bus.