By Erin Baldassari
SW/TCH (pronounced “Switch”), a New York-based investment company, announced Wednesday — two months before the boat even touches the San Francisco Bay — that it would be the first to test the technology in commercial commuter service, beginning as early as 2020. The plan, said SW/TCH co-founder Pace Ralli, is to partner with large employers to offer a pollution-free alternative to gas-guzzling shuttles.
That means Bay Area residents will not only be the first to catch a glimpse of the vessel, called the Water-Go-Round, when it’s completed this fall, but some of the region’s commuters may also be among the first to experience the boat in action. First, though, there will be a three-month demonstration project where the public can learn about the technology, which has been around for decades but only recently adapted for maritime use, said Joe Pratt, chief executive and technical officer of Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine, which designed the vessel. His company secured a $3 million grant last year from the California Air Resources Board to build the ferry with help from Alameda’s Bay Ship & Yacht Co.
“It was never intended to just be a demonstration project,” Pratt said. “It was always intended to be built for long-term commercial service.”
That’s where SW/TCH comes in. The company was founded on the premise of investing in zero-emission technology specifically for maritime use. Once the technology is proved, Ralli said, the next step will be to build another ferry to grow the operation, potentially partnering with publicly-funded services, such as the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate ferries.