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Pinellas transit authority floats concept to operate countywide ferry service

Veronica Brezina

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A rendering of a PSTA-wrapped ferry. Image provided.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is proposing to resurrect a ferry service within the county that can incrementally connect to more destinations. 

During a PSTA Planning Committee meeting, PSTA CEO Brad Miller presented the concept to the board of resurrecting the Clearwater Ferry service under PSTA’s watch. 

PSTA is working with Forward Pinellas, the county’s land-use and transportation planning agency, and its newly created waterborne transit committee on taking the reins of the Clearwater Ferry service. The ferry’s service was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Clearwater Ferry previously provided service between downtown Clearwater, Clearwater Beach and Dunedin.

“We hope to expand ferry operations around the whole county, the model would be similar to the way the Jolley Trolley operations have evolved over the years, and is overseen by PSTA,” Miller said. 

Today, there are several area ferry operations, such as the seasonal Cross-Bay Ferry that links Tampa and St. Petersburg.   

Under PSTA’s plan, the organization would be the central manager and act as the agency of ferry operations within Pinellas County. It would work with contractors as the Cross-Bay Ferry, which is operated by HMS Ferries, does. On the funding side, the municipalities would provide funding.  

PSTA would also funnel its own funds into the project. 

“To get them ready [the boats] to operate on a daily basis, we’d contribute $100,000 of capital, but I have been hesitant and haven’t brought it to board until we have secured the operating funds to operate it in the future,” Miller said, explaining that the concept of relaunching this service will go before the municipalities, asking them to help fund operations in the fiscal year 2023. 

PSTA created a vision plan of acquiring heavy-duty ferry boats that would be hybrid-electric vessels.

“The long-term plan is no doubt a large investment,” he said, providing the example of the Cross-Bay Ferry that is funded by four entities. 

The focus for 2022 would be to secure operating funds by forming interlocal agreements with Pinellas County, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Dunedin to fund ferry operations in 2023. 

If the municipalities were on board to execute the plan, PSTA would contribute capital dollars into restarting the Clearwater Ferry as a regular transit service. 

The next step would be acquiring new boats by using federal grant dollars that PSTA is optimistic it would secure. The service would expand to create a true intercoastal system. 

“We want to increase the frequency of these services. Right now they [ferry operators] don’t operate seven days a week or have the frequency where commuters can take them on a reliable basis,” Miller said. 

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    KAREN J. DOUGLAS

    January 19, 2022at4:43 pm

    Does this mean the ferry system in Clearwater would never be coming back. It appears they want to do this umbrella service instead. It’s not clear to me. I was actually not aware that the Clearwater ferries had ceased due to covid. I was on the intercoastal last weekend and I was sure I saw water taxies near the Belleair Causeway bridge.

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