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Cross-Bay Ferry Returns For Third Season, With Year-Round Expansion In Mind

The Cross-Bay Ferry
Returning to Tampa Bay on Nov. 1, the Cross-Bay Ferry will feature a larger schedule and trips before and after Lightning home games. COURTESY HMS FERRIES

The Cross-Bay Ferry will return to Tampa Bay for a third season, with new services, a new website, and a proposal for permanent, year-round service in the next three years.

The ferry will now run from the Tampa Convention Center to St. Petersburg’s Vinoy Yacht Basin starting Nov. 1, 2019 through April 30, 2020, with service Wednesday through Sunday.

Ed Turanchik, lawyer for owner HMS Ferries, said having a dock at the Tampa Convention Center led to a weekend schedule with more departures.

“We'll be doing four round trips on every Friday, four round trips on every Saturday, and three round trips on Sundays,” he said. “We’re pretty confident we’ll go over 53,000 passengers this year.”

That was the ridership last season, up from 35,000 people during the first season. They expect an increase to about 60,000 this year.

This season will also have ride availability to and from every Tampa Bay Lightning home game, including days when the ferry is not normally in service. It will be available for fans up to 30 minutes after each game’s final horn.

“We feel this is extremely important for our fans to find easier, affordable, fan-friendly ways to get to the arena,” said Jarrod Dillon, an executive for the Tampa Bay Lightning. “We think this is a huge benefit, specifically for our fans in Pinellas County.”

Other local institutions, like the Dali Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and The Vinoy, are partnering with the Cross-Bay Ferry to promote people’s ability to visit both cities without having to drive longer distances.

“The ferry has been a great way of cutting down traffic on our congested roadways and creating economic activity for business and it's a ton of fun,” said Turanchik.

The Tampa Convention Center
This season, the Cross-Bay Ferry will have a new dock at the Tampa Convention Center allowing for more service availability. ALYSIA CRUZ/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

As a regional project, both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, the Florida Department of Transportation, and HMS Ferries all have financial stakes in the expanding water transportation system.

In an effort to start permanent service, HMS Ferries has created a partnership agreement with Hillsborough County. The ferry company is committed to paying the operating costs for a MacDill commuter route for 20 years, while the county would be covering the cost of building docks and terminals, along with purchasing ferries.

“For the cost of running one boat on a seasonal basis, we could have permanent service with commuter service and evening service and weekend service year-round,” Turanchik said. “For what we're spending for temporary service, we could have three or four times more permanent service if we decided to make that investment.”

Through new social media and on-boat marketing, people will be hearing more about the proposal and possibilities of a full water transit system.

“Water transportation is one of the defining elements of a world class city,” said Ben Lee of Schifino Lee Advertising & Branding, the agency handling marketing for the project. “Between Sydney, Seattle, San Francisco, New York, all of those utilize their waterfront to transport people. So we really look forward to one day having that many boats going across all the bay.”

Tickets are available starting today on the ferry’s “one-stop shop” website, which includes route schedules, parking information, and things to do on both sides of the bay.

Alysia Cruz is the WUSF Stephen Noble news intern for the fall 2019 semester. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of South Florida in Communication and is now enrolled at USF St. Petersburg, pursuing her Master’s in Digital Journalism & Design concentrating on food writing.
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