The Cross-Bay Ferry is kicking off its new season on Thursday, as it works toward becoming a permanent transportation service in Tampa Bay.
The ferry, operated by HMS Ferries Inc., was launched in 2017 and provides a link between St. Petersburg and Tampa.
The goal is for the service to become a permanent year-round service by 2024 and have four vessels.
Today, the ferry service utilizes a 149-passenger catamaran that docks at the Vinoy Boat Basin near the St. Pete Pier District while the Tampa Convention Center serves as the Tampa terminus.
As the demand has grown over time, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transportation Authority has applied for a $5 million federal grant this month to obtain a larger passenger vessel, HART CEO Adelee Le Grand said during a press conference Tuesday in St. Pete.
“We are very hopeful we will bring home the grant dollars that will allow us to build a vessel that has a capacity of 350 passengers – that’s like twice the capacity we have today, which will allow us to move more people,” Le Grand said.
HART worked with the Hillsborough County staff and the HMS technical staff in the application process.
St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Hillsborough County Commissioner and HART board member Pat Kemp, Pinellas County Commissioner and PSTA board member Janet Long and others touted the ferry as a solution to the congestion on the bridges between the two metros and takes advantage of the bay.
The ferry has long been financially backed by Pinellas County commissioners, Hillsborough County commissioners, the City of St. Petersburg and the City of Tampa.
Rates for riders: The rates have remained the same as the previous system, but there is a new rate for riders who are in wheelchairs. One-way for adults is $10, children under four years old ride for free, it’s $5 for persons who utilize a wheelchair, and it’s $8 for seniors, youth, military members and college students.
Schedule: It departs from St. Petersburg on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 4:45 p.m., 10 a.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. on Sundays. There’s no service on Mondays and Tuesdays. It does provide service when there are home games for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The one-way commute is 55 minutes between the cities. This season, the ferry will run for seven months, which is a month longer than in previous seasons, HMS Ferries General Manager Kevin Fisher said.
The future of the ferry
The ferry system is expected to complement other last- and first-mile modes of transit such as the TECO Line Streetcar, e-scooters and the bus rapid transit SunRunner service, the 10.3-mile line that will connect St. Petersburg, South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach in 2022
Ed Turanchik, who represents HMS Ferries, stated the ferry will eventually have a connection between MacDill Air Force Base and Southern Hillsborough County, which is home to the largest population of veterans in Florida.
Mosaic Fertilizer would donate a finger of property at its Big Bend site for the ferry to use as the South County terminus.
“If you look at an actual land map from South County to MacDill and go across the water, it’s amazing how much time we would be saving,” Castor said.
The plans for bridging Southern Hillsborough County to MacDill have been in the works for several years, as HMS was evaluating a handful of sites before negotiating with Mosaic on the potential terminus site.
If HMS Ferries moved forward on the site, the infrastructure cost to build out Mosaic’s South County terminus may need to be funded through Hillsborough County. However, the ferry operators would assume the financial risk and be responsible for vessel maintenance and repairs.