WETA to Receive $26 Million in Additional Federal Transit Funding
SAN FRANCISCO | March 4, 2022 – The San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) received notification that the agency will receive an additional $26 million in investment from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Additional Assistance Grant Program to help preserve San Francisco Bay Ferry service while ridership continues to recover.
The funding program recognizes the deep reliance WETA and some other transit operators had on fare revenue to finance operations before the pandemic. Through 2019, WETA had one of the highest farebox recovery rates among all transit agencies nationwide. When ridership plummeted at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, it had an especially acute impact on WETA’s fiscal sustainability.
"We are very grateful for these additional federal funds, which will help maintain San Francisco Bay Ferry service as ridership rebounds and new sources of sustainable transit investments are identified,” said WETA Executive Director Seamus Murphy. "Federal relief funds made it possible for WETA to be the first Bay Area transit agency to relaunch pre-pandemic service levels in 2021. That, combined with a revised fare structure and redesigned schedule has helped maximize and diversify ferry ridership while the region recovers from the pandemic. We are especially thankful to the Bay Area Congressional Delegation led by Speaker Pelosi for their strong advocacy, and to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the Federal Transit Administration and the Biden-Harris Administration for prioritizing transit recovery."
Without additional funding, WETA and other fare-dependent transit providers faced the prospect of severe service cuts and potential labor force reduction next fiscal year due to revenue shortfalls caused by lower transit demand. WETA is also facing significant fuel cost issues as prices rise. The additional funding announced by Speaker Pelosi will help extend WETA’s runway and preserve its highly skilled maritime workforce.
WETA’s Pandemic Recovery Program, launched in July 2021, has aided strong ridership recovery when compared to similar regional transit operators. The Program lowered fares across the system to align with other transportation options, removing the premium that passengers paid for San Francisco Bay Ferry’s ride quality and amenities prior to the pandemic. It also enhanced off-peak and weekend service to make the service more relevant for a new market of riders that emerged during the pandemic.
Steady ridership growth has been interrupted by COVID-19 variants and shifting return-to-work plans. However, this fiscal year to date, San Francisco Bay Ferry reached 37% of 2019 ridership levels overall, with especially promising performance on weekends, where ridership has reached 70% of pre-pandemic levels, with some weekends over 100%. As the Omicron wave subsides, ridership growth is looking particularly promising: February weekday ridership increased 43% over January levels and February weekend ridership exceeded pre-pandemic seasonal averages, proving Bay Area travelers are willing to get back on transit.