Ferry groundings could have been better communicated, says Kriseman spokesman
When Mayor Rick Kriseman announced an ambitious CrossBay ferry pilot project last summer, he pitched it as a viable option for special events.
But a lack of dock space in Tampa prevented the ferry from running during the run-up festivities to the College Football Playoff championship earlier this month. And, this week, the city announced the ferry wouldn’t run during Gasparilla either.
Docking the ferry during Tampa Bay’s biggest winter events wasn’t mentioned when the city and public relations firm, Tucker Hall, touted ridership numbers and an award given to Kriseman for his advocacy for the ferry in a Jan. 11 news release.
In fact, when that release went out, officials were discussing eliminating weekday commuter service. In the end, they have proposed to keep weekday service, but cut one-way trips in half from $10 to $5 for February.
In August, Kriseman was talking about mainly Lightning games, not Gasparilla or the college football championship when he pitched it as an option for getting to Tampa, Kirby said.
As for the fare cut promotion, that was still in the discussion phase when the city was trumpeting its ridership increase.
“I’m not sure it was newsworthy (on Jan. 11),” Kirby said.
Stil, the mayor's spokesman said, the message could have been more complete.
"We can always communicate better," Kirby said.
The U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday that when they contacted HMS Ferries Inc last week to see if it planned to run during Gasparilla, they were told that the operator had never intended to do so, said Petty Officer Michael De Nyse.
The Coast Guard eventually released a directive warning away ships that weren’t officially registered for Gasparilla from the area.
Kriseman didn’t know about the Coast Guard directive when he called Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in an attempt to get the ferry to run during the massive Pirate party, Kirby said.
But it turned out the city wouldn’t have the dock space anyway, he said.
Should the city have done advance work to reserve dock space and get the ferry registered as an official vessel for Gasparilla?
That’s the purpose of the pilot project, Kirby said.
Pilot projects are how you learn where the bumps are. Another problem has been foggy weather that has grounded the ferry several times recently. The Coast Guard bans the ferry from operating during heavy fog for safety reason, he said.
“We could have used that money to commission a study or we could have actually done it and learned some of these lessons,” Kirby said.
The project runs through April and cost $1.4 million split evently between St. Petersburg, Tampa and Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.