The Cross-Bay Ferry linking St. Petersburg and Tampa set sail May 1 for its last voyage of the season, but it’s future is long from over as the operators look to acquire new vessels and add destinations.
Today, the ferry service, operated by HMS Ferries, utilizes a 149-passenger catamaran that docks at the Vinoy Boat Basin near the St. Pete Pier District and – on the other end – the Tampa Convention Center, which serves as the Tampa terminus.
This season, the passenger ferry set a new record, taking over 53,500 riders across Tampa Bay; however, that activity is projected to grow immensely as the ferry operators plan the seasonal passenger ferry to become a permanent year-round service by 2024, and will add several more vessels.
Last year, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) received roughly $4.86 million from the Federal Transit Administration to go toward the purchase of a 350-person vessel – which can carry more than double what the current vessel can accommodate.
HMS recently released new renderings of the 350-person vessel.
Ed Turanchik, who represents HMS Ferries, said HART and Hillsborough County are working on the procurement process for the new $6.1 million vessel.
“The acquisition of the 350-passenger ferry allows us to run more intercity trips between St. Pete and Tampa until we have permanent service,” Turanchik said.
Having permanent service ensures an ongoing future for HMS and also incorporates a new connection between MacDill Air Force Base and Southern Hillsborough County, which is home to the largest population of veterans in Florida.
Mosaic Fertilizer has offered to donate a finger of property at its Big Bend site for the ferry to use as the South County terminus. Hillsborough County and Mosaic are working on an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) for the South County site.
“We are probably four or five months ahead of where we projected to be [in the process],” Turanchik said. “Once we get additional vessels and develop the South County facility, we will have intercity service at St. Pete, Tampa and South County. We will have two to four vessels on evenings and weekends, and during the day, the same vessels will provide commuter service to MacDill.”
For now, commuters can expect the typical St. Pete-Tampa seasonal ferry service to return this October and run through next May, offering 32 trips a week.