Pinellas County Commissioners hesitantly approved on Tuesday an agreement to financially support the Cross-Bay ferry over the next few years.
As county commissioners expressed concerns over the advancement of the Cross-Bay ferry, the board ultimately voted 5-2 in favor of reaching a four-year interlocal agreement with operators HMS Ferries Inc. so that the service becomes permanent all year round. service by 2024.
The Cross-Bay Ferry began in 2017, providing a link between Tampa and St. Pete. It has received financial support over the years from local municipalities and would require continued funding.
Once the new deal is done, Pinellas County would funnel a total of $ 822,500 over four years. The term begins on October 1. The cost could be reduced based on potential revenue sharing from HMS and financial assistance from the Florida Department of Transportation, according to county documents.
The city of St. Petersburg, the city of Tampa and the County of Hillsborough previously gave the green light to move forward with the deal – Pinellas County was the last partner operators had to join in the plan .
Pinellas County Commissioners recently pushed the discussion about the future of the ferry as they criticized the service, saying it is not a true mode of transit for locals, and that the idea that the service ultimately becomes the premium choice without subsidies is “ambitious”. ”
“Everyone comes to us as the ugly stepson because we have planted our feet and we have questions that we want [to be] responded, ”said Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, who also sits on the board of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and the board of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority. “I let this go… it still bothers me, but in the spirit of cooperation, coordination and collaboration, I let this go.”
Long also noted that Forward Pinellas has set up an inland waterway transport subcommittee and that through PSTA there is a public-private partnership with the Clearwater ferry that could bring electric vessels to the area.
Ed Turanchik, who represents HMS Ferries, explained how the future service may involve a connection to Southern Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base – which has been a long desired goal – as well as perhaps other connections to Tampa.
The Commissioners quickly shifted the conversation to focus on the existing service for St. Pete and Tampa.
“What you’re talking about has nothing to do with this proposal for the next four years. My biggest problem is that three years ago that was the promise – we were all going to have ferries from MacDill to South County – that never happened, “said the county commissioner. by Pinellas, Kathleen Peters.
“Until you have a concrete plan, I’m not sure I can spend any money on a project that has a benefit to St. Petersburg, but not a county-wide benefit… the needle has not moved. I’m disappointed you didn’t start the permit, you didn’t start all of this last year or the year before. I think we are the red-haired stepson.
“This is the first time that we have had the opportunity to have serious engagement with Pinellas County staff,” said Turanchik. “Shame on us, and we apologize for having known this, but no one put us on alert to say, ‘Engage with the Pinellas County Commission. “But we are here now and it will never happen again and we will work closely with you.
The seasonal ferry service currently uses a 149-passenger catamaran ferry that docks at the Vinoy Boat Dock, adjacent to St. Pete’s Pier, and connects to the Tampa Convention Center as the Tampa terminus. The journey is 50 minutes.
In the ferry’s first and second years of operation, county records placed ridership between 50,000 and 52,000 passengers. In the third year, ridership was less than 40,000 runners due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The financial breakdown for the next four years:
- Each of the four participating agencies, including Pinellas County and the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg, the grant share is $ 175,000 for the first year. They will share $ 190,000 for the second year; $ 202,500 for the third year and $ 255,000 for the fourth year.
St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor have touted seasonal service as a viable form of transit since its inception, saying it eases congestion on the Howard Frankland and Gandy Bridges .
Kriseman took to Twitter to say how happy he was to see Pinellas County signing a deal to keep the ferry going.
All smiles to know the @CrossBayFerryTB continue to. Thanks again to the contributing governments. The ferry is not the answer – it is a tool. We are slowly changing the culture and getting people used to water transport. Good for our savings too. Keep on browsing! #SunShinesHere pic.twitter.com/GvZ0tjql7r
– Rick Kriseman (@Kriseman) September 22, 2021
The ridership this season will far exceed the records we had before, said Matt Miller, President of HMS Ferries. “Based on these projections, you’ll get more services for less money, with the last year being the path to permanent service without subsidies. “
Ferry operators will continue to operate weekday schedules to provide service between the two downtown areas during special events, and will operate nightly service when the Tampa Bay Lightning plays home games.
Pinellas County has the right to terminate its deal if it chooses to do so by June 1 of next year.