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Cross-Bay Ferry expects record ridership in third season

Margie Manning

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Cross-Bay Ferry

The Cross-Bay Ferry between downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Tampa will start its third season of service Nov. 1, with a new schedule and some special perks thrown in for Tampa Bay Lightning fans.

The ferry will run Wednesdays through Sundays, including four round trips every Friday and Saturday and three round trips on Sunday, said Ed Turanchik, the attorney for ferry operator HMS Ferries. The ferry also will operate when the Lightning play at Amalie Arena, he said.

“If you are a Lightning fan and living in South Pinellas, you’ll be able to take the ferry to every single Lightning home game. We found that was an incredibly popular service last year, and so even if we’re not running on a Monday-Tuesday regular schedule but there’s a Lightning game that night, we’ll run,” Turanchik said.

He’s also expecting record ridership this year. The ferry carried about 38,000 passengers in its first year, then increased to 53,000 last year. “We think with this change of schedule, we’ll be trending toward 60,000 this year,” he said.

Ferry service is an economic development tool for the area, Turanchik said, citing results of a survey that showed passengers spent between $15 and $75 at restaurants, museums and retail shops when they arrived at their destination. Half of the ferry passengers last year said they used the ferry in lieu of driving and the other half said they wouldn’t have made the trip at all had it not been for the ferry, according to Turanchik.

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

Turanchik, a longtime advocate for ferry service, said this season could be a springboard for permanent ferry service in southern Hillsborough County. “We are the only major metropolitan area in America that’s on the water that doesn’t use the water for moving people,” he said.

“Water transportation is one of the defining elements of a world class city,” said Ben Lee, founder of  Schifino Lee, the advertising agency of record for the ferry. “Between Sydney. Australia, Seattle, San Francisco, New York, all of those utilize their waterfront to transport people very effectively and efficiently. It really helps define Tampa Bay as a world class city. We really look forward to one day having many boats go across the bay.”

Lee also announced a new website, www.thecrossbayferry.com, a one-stop shop for schedules, parking information and ticket purchases. Prices are unchanged from last year; the cost is $8 for adults, $5 for seniors 65 and older, active and retired military and college students, and $3 for youth, ages 5 to 18. Younger children are free.

The ferry will dock at the Tampa Convention Center and at Bayshore Drive near 4th Avenue Northeast in the Vinoy Yacht Basin in St. Petersburg.

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, and the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa, help fund the ferry service, which is operated by HMS Ferries Inc. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman earlier this year secured a commitment for two years’ funding for the ferry service from the local government agencies.

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