St. Petersburg City Council latest to approve ferry idea
ST. PETERSBURG — By an almost unanimous vote, St. Petersburg City Council members on Thursday became the latest group of elected officials to approve a ferry pilot program Thursday that would link the St. Petersburg and Tampa downtowns beginning this November.
Council member Jim Kennedy hailed the agreement that will see four major Tampa Bay governments "all working together side by side on transportation" and said he hoped it marked the "beginning of a wonderful relationship."
Hillsborough County commissioners approved the project Wednesday and the Tampa City Council did the same on Thursday. The Pinellas County Commission will consider the idea on Tuesday.
"I'm excited about this project," said Council member Steve Kornell.
Council member Ed Montanari was the only council member to vote against the project. Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bauman was not present.
Each government will contribute $350,000 for the program. The city of St. Petersburg will also spend up to $50,000 for dock and terminal improvements. The city has been the lead government working on the project and forged the agreement with HMS Ferries to run a six-month pilot program that will take passengers across Tampa Bay starting Nov. 1.
But even with the interlocal agreement, approval is still needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That has to be in place by Sept. 15, but St. Petersburg has "an out" in its contract with HMS Ferries if that deadline is not met, the city's development administrator Alan DeLisle said.
The program is designed to determine whether the region could sustain a permanent ferry system between the two cities. Kennedy wanted to know how success would be determined. It is something that still needs to be worked out among the government entities, DeLisle said.
Thursday, St. Petersburg City Council members approved the license and operating agreement with HMS Ferries and funding for the program. The city's $350,000 contribution comes from BP settlement funds.
As proposed, Seattle-based HMS Ferries would get the first $125,000 of the ferry's revenues. Anything the service made above that would be split among the four government entities. The ferry has 149 seats, DeLisle, said, adding projections show that with 25 percent participation, each participant in the agreement would get about $50,000 each. At 75 percent, it would be about $200,000 each, he said.
The plan calls for two round-trip crossings a day, with three on Friday. One-way fares are expected to be $10 each way.
"The fare strikes me as a little high, " Council member Darden Rice said, going on to ask whether there's a way to offer rebates of riders.
DeLisle said that there will be ways to reduce the costs.
"In my discussions with HMS....I know HMS is on top of that," he said. "The $10 is not set."