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The Cross-Bay Ferry sets a new rider record ... again

 The Cross Bay Ferry set another record for ridership in 2022-23.
Cross Bay Ferry
In Tampa, the ferry departs from the dock at the Tampa Convention Center, and in St. Petersburg from the dock at North Straub Park, near the Vinoy Basin.

The ferry celebrated its 62,131st rider of the season on April 29.

The Cross-Bay Ferry has set another record for ridership in a season.

According to a release, the ferry celebrated its 62,131st rider of the season on the 11:30 a.m. trip from Tampa on April 29. The rider, Abram Fisher, was presented with free tickets for the 2023-2024 ferry season.

The previous record was set just last year. The ferry, which began shuttling passengers between Tampa and St. Petersburg starting Oct. 19, will be in season until May 28, providing another month to add to the record.

In early April, the ferry also reached the landmark of 300,000 riders since its first trip in 2016.

“Tampa Bay residents and visitors alike continue to embrace the region’s historic waterways and ferry transportation as a convenient and congestion-proof transit option to get to restaurants, museums, events, and shopping destinations, driving economic growth for our local businesses and destinations as they travel,” Cross-Bay Ferry operator Matt Miller said in the release. “We’re excited to build upon our outstanding growth as the season closes and as we continue to work with our community and government partners to ensure another banner season for 2023 and 2024 and beyond.”

According to the release, the ferry's survival of the COVID-19 pandemic is especially encouraging to Tampa and St. Petersburg, which both contribute to operating the ferry. The pre-pandemic record, set in the 2018-2019 season, was 52,528 riders.

The record comes after Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority officials voted to spend $6 million to help buy a permanent vessel, with the bulk of the funds coming from federal transportation grants.

The ferry service was created in 2016 to connect Tampa and St. Petersburg via a 50-minute ride and a $10 ticket.

A 2016 story quoted then-mayor Bob Buckhorn as saying that the two downtowns should be connected, and the city's decision would be based on the question of whether a ferry was the best type of connection.

Concerns about traffic safety on Tampa and St. Petersburg's busy highways drove original ferry plans.

Sandy Murman, who was a Hillsborough County commissioner at the time, said establishing a ferry service would show constituents that the commission intends to take action to get cars off the road and provide alternative forms of transportation.

Tickets for the Cross-Bay Ferry are $12, with discounts for children, seniors and students. They are available for purchase online as well as near the Tampa Convention Center and the St. Petersburg Vinoy Basin.

Joanna Keen is the WUSF Stephen Noble Digital News intern for spring of 2023.