As a sixth-month test period comes to a close, the Cross-Bay Ferry is scheduled to stop making runs on April 30.
But action taken by the Hillsborough County Commission indicates it will likely be back.
The commissioners directed county staff to find funds in the 2018 budget that could be invested in a seasonal ferry linking the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Last year, Hillsborough allocated $350,000 to the pilot program, along with Pinellas County, Tampa and St. Petersburg.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman says the county received somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000 back on its initial investment and the ferry project is headed in the right direction.
“We’re knee deep in transportation issues right now and we’ve build a great case for a successful project,” she says.
Proponents of the ferry say it performed beyond expectations during the trial run, proving itself as a viable transportation option.
“It’s had good revenues, strong ridership and very strong corporate sponsorship,” says Ed Turanchik, project adviser.
According to Turanchik, ridership for April is on track to reach 10,000 people. In total, more than 36,000 passengers have boarded the ferry for a trip across the bay.
The 149-seat catamaran runs from downtown St. Pete’s waterfront to downtown Tampa near the convention center seven days a week with the heaviest ridership on weekends. The pilot program served as a demonstration of the non-commuter market, which accounts for the majority of travel.
“This really shows us there’s a strong market for non-work-based transit,” Turanchik says.
Now that it has some momentum, Turanchick is looking at the next phase for the ferry.
“Now it’s not a question of a pilot,” he says. “It’s using seasonal service to transition into permanent service and build the market.”
With public-private partnerships to fund the initial investment and operating costs of the new transportation system in the works, big things are possible ferries in the future of Tampa Bay. Champions include Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
“I can readily envision there being a dozen to 16 ferries operating in the bay area when all these things finally are deployed,” Turanchik says. “There’s a market for this and it’s only going to grow.”