The Port of St. Petersburg may become the new home for the Cross Bay Ferry – at least for now.
Since 2016, the Cross Bay Ferry has provided a seasonal waterborne transit service, carrying thousands of travelers to and from Tampa and St. Petersburg – an alternative that leaders have touted as an innovative approach to bridging the two cities.
At the North Yacht Basin, a marina across from The Vinoy Resort and Golf Club, passengers purchase tickets from a booth before boarding the vessel and debarking on a seasonal 50-minute journey to the Tampa Convention Center. However, the Basin wasn’t intended to become the permanent ferry site.
“We always knew the temporary permit for the North Basin was just that – temporary. The permanent ferry dock was supposed to be part of the new Pier, but the new Pier was constructed without that [infrastructure],” City Councilmember Gina Driscoll said during the Sept. 28 council meeting.
The permit for the Basin recently expired. The city and HMS Ferries Inc., the operator, are now working with the Army Corps of Engineers to determine if the ferry could dock at the Port.
Port St. Pete, located near downtown, is one of 15 deep-water harbors in Florida and is utilized as a U.S. Coast Guard station.
Evan Mory, the city’s director of transportation and parking management, informed officials the ferry may operate out of the Port this season and could later return to the North Yacht Basin for the following two seasons.
The incoming season’s service will extend from eight to nine months, beginning in October and terminating the following June. An exact start date for the new season has not been announced.
The city will resubmit a permit application, giving HMS the flexibility of using both the Basin and Port facilities as needed, HMS Ferries President Matt Miller told the St. Pete Catalyst.
The Port property has benefits and challenges as the site isn’t centrally located, but it offers substantial free parking and is close to the Looper Trolley stop, near the Hangar Restaurant.
The Trolley stops at over a dozen sites, including City Hall, museums and the University of South Florida’s St. Pete campus.
“I want everyone to know you had conversations with the folks of the Looper Trolley to get the stop moved or added to make it as easy as possible [for passengers to access] and that [request] was declined. I’m not happy about it. We should be better partners than that,” Driscoll said.
However, there will be access to micro-mobility alternatives with e-scooters and bikes.
Mory said the operators will relocate the payment booth from the Basin to the Port.
Also, the city has allocated $250,000 to go towards the construction of a permanent dock, Miller said.
The infrastructure buildout may take up to three years at the identified site.