By John Ramos

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — Starting Thursday morning, Bay Area residents will be able to take advantage of a new commuter ferry service traveling between Richmond and San Francisco.

At 6:10 a.m., the first ferry boat leaves from a brand new terminal on the Richmond waterfront. Just 35 minutes later, it arrives in San Francisco, leaving passenger Elena Elisher wondering why no one thought of this before.

“To me, it’s a life-changing situation,” she told KPIX 5. “I don’t have to drive anymore. I can walk here and be in my office, literally, in 45 minutes.”

The shiny new terminal sits right next to the old Ford Auto Plant building and just steps away from the Rosie the Riveter Museum. Those may be relics of the past, but then, so are the ferries themselves.

Today, they carry about 10,000 people a day to work. But in the 1930s before the bridges were completed, ferries transported more than 150.000 workers into San Francisco each morning.  It’s an idea that makes sense again, says SF Bay Ferry spokesman Thomas Hall.

“We’re able to use the Bay — not as a barrier, as it is for every other service — but it’s really our tool to get from one place to another,” explained Hall.

Aside from getting cars off congested I-80, the service will be a bargain.  Clipper Card holders pay only $6.75 each way.  It’s $4.50 for kids and seniors and 9 bucks if you’re paying cash.  The Richmond terminal even has 362 free parking spaces.

And in San Francisco, commuters will pull up to a brand new landing at Mission and Embarcadero.  Ferry operators believe, from the start, the new service will account for 400 trips a day.

“I’m amazed more people don’t do it,” says Alameda resident and ferry rider Dee Keltner. “We love it.  We don’t have to drive our cars over the bridge. We don’t have to park over here. It’s comfortable, it’s warm. It’s nice!”

Officials have plans to vastly expand the ferry network and expect by 2040 to quadruple the number of commuters who use the Bay itself as their highway to work.

The San Francisco Bay Ferry website has published a complete schedule of the new Richmond ferry service.