As Constanza Lanata and Andrew Machota cruised along Tampa Bay on Monday afternoon, the two daydreamed about how life might look with the Cross-Bay Ferry operating regularly between St. Petersburg and Tampa.
Lanata, 33, could check out St. Petersburg's monthly First Friday celebration without worrying about driving back afterward. Machota, 35, could use the Wi-Fi and work at one of the tables during the 50-minute trip instead of battling traffic on his way to Tampa.
Monday's trip brought together several groups of young professionals to test ride the ferry, which started its six-month pilot program Nov. 1. Lanata and Machota are part of a demographic that ferry organizers say is key to the success of the area's latest transit option.
The organizers rattled off a list of events the boat would be perfect for — Tampa Bay Rays or Lightning games, festivals at Curtis Hixon, brunch on Beach Drive, concerts at Amalie Arena.
But there are concerns, too. At $20 round trip, the price seems too high, they said. The schedule is limited. And once the boat ports in the other city, what options are waiting there to get people where they need to go?
"If I'm paying you $20, help me out," said Machota, founder of New Town Connections, a networking company. "Help me get to Curtis Hixon or Fly Bar. Have a shuttle waiting for me.
"If I know there's a way to get me from the dock to Margarita Fest or the Pig Jig, hell yeah I'm gonna go. That would give me more incentive."
Many young professionals on the boat moved to the Tampa Bay area after living in cities with more robust public transit systems.
Lanata didn't have a car in Buenos Aires, relying on the train and subway. Nick Glover, 34, and his wife moved to Tampa to be closer to family, but missed the ease of public transportation and the walkability of New York City. Robert Torres, 38, works to bring more millennials to Hillsborough County but says cities like Charlotte and Denver have a leg up when it comes to public transit.
"You move here, and it's like, "What? Really?" Lanata said, speaking of the lack of public transit options. "I think we all want something we can use so that we don't have to depend on a car so much."
Glover was disappointed when larger transportation initiatives in the area, such as a sales tax to fund transportation, failed over the past several years. But he said recent projects such as the ferry, rapid bus routes and enhanced bike and pedestrian facilities are all steps in the right direction."
"We're starting to see it happen piecemeal," Glover said. "We don't have to do all earth-shattering things. … Each one is an important small piece of that puzzle."
But while there is a desire to see all of these options succeed, Torres said, it's essential the system be more interconnected. Now, he said, it seems like all transportation options in the area operate independently — the streetcar in Tampa, the trolley in St. Petersburg, the county bus systems.
"Everybody should meet and work out a schedule so we can take advantage of all of the options," Lanata said.
Several on board said having a fare card that worked for all of the area's public transit options would make them more likely to leave their cars behind and take transit instead.
"If I go to any other city, I can buy a day pass and use any form of transportation," Machota said. "I know it's difficult with two different counties, but this isn't just one city we live and work in. It's Tampa Bay. There's got to be a way to work together."
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.