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Year-Round Cross-Bay Ferry Deal In Sight

ferry in water
Bobbie O'Brien
WUSF Public Media
The Cross-Bay Ferry may soon expand to year-round service by 2024.

Year-round ferry transportation between Tampa and St. Petersburg is one step closer after the Hillsborough County Commission approved its expansion this week.

In 2024, people might be able to make the trip between Tampa and St. Petersburg using the Cross-Bay Ferry no matter the time of year.

The move to gradually expand the ferry’s availability to a full year was approved Wednesday by the Hillsborough County Commission in a 6-1 vote.

The next season will start Oct. 1 — a month earlier than previous seasons — and run until April 30, 2022.

  • Year two — Oct. 1, 2022 to May 31, 2023
  • Year three — Oct 1, 2023 to June 30, 2024
  • Year four — Oct. 1, 2024 to Sept. 30, 2025

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who was one of the people who helped bring the service to the Tampa Bay area in 2016, said the move could make the ferry a regular mode of transportation for locals.

“It’s an alternate means of getting around that just makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons. And quite frankly, it was amazing to me, for two cities that are surrounded by water to not have taken advantage of that water as a way of getting around,” he said.

Read the new agreement between Hillsborough County and HMS Ferries

The St. Petersburg City Council, Tampa City Council, Pinellas County Commission, and Hillsborough County Commission each contribute $150,000 to pay for the service. Additional funding comes from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Costs to each municipality will increase as the season expands. But according to Kriseman, monthly costs will decrease.

Kriseman said another incentive for expansion is the environmental implications it could have.

“If we care about our environment and about climate change, we want to get people out of their cars, we want them using alternate means of transportation,” he said. “A ferry is a great way of getting from St. Pete to Tampa and Tampa to St. Pete without getting in a car.”

Ridership has been increasing since the ferry first set sail.

There were 41,394 riders during the 2016-2017 test season, and 52,528 in 2018-2019. Ridership was up to 51,658 in 2019-2020 until service was stopped mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

City of St. Petersburg

The agreement still needs to be approved by the city councils in both Tampa and St. Petersburg, as well as the Pinellas County Commission.

One other change to the agreement will see the Hillsborough County Commission serve as the contracting agency with HMS Ferries; St. Petersburg had previously served in that role.

And for Kriseman, the ultimate goal isn’t just making the service year-round, but adding more boats.

“When you get to that point where you've got 15-minute turnarounds [for rides], then you can truly have real commuter service that's not just for someone who's going for recreation or pleasure or tourists, but actually is a mode of transportation for people to get back and forth to work, or to go to the airport or things of that sort,” said Kriseman.

Under the agreement, any ferry ticket revenue exceeding $400,000 will be split equally between HMS and Hillsborough County, which will then divide their share with the three other governments.

Jorgelina Manna-Rea is a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News intern for the fall of 2021, her second straight semester with WUSF.
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