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Hillsborough County commissioners on board for return of ferry service

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman finds unanimous support among Hillsborough County commissioners for return of seasonal ferry service between downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg.
The Cross Bay Ferry, seen here docked at the St. Petersburg Museum of History on 335 Second Ave. NE, started operating in April 2016 and finished the trial run in November 2017.
The Cross Bay Ferry, seen here docked at the St. Petersburg Museum of History on 335 Second Ave. NE, started operating in April 2016 and finished the trial run in November 2017.
Published Jun. 20, 2018
Updated Jun. 20, 2018

TAMPA – St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman cleared another hurdle in his bid to bring back a seasonal ferry service between his city and Tampa when Hillsborough County commissioners agreed to back the project.

Kriseman is asking the  City of Tampa and Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to join St. Petersburg in paying $150,000 each to subsidize the service, which would run between November and April.

He made his pitch to Hillsborough County commissioners Wednesday saying that the pilot program, which ran in 2016 and sold over 37,000 tickets, proves there is a demand for the service.

But he acknowledged that the infrequent one-boat service is not going to get many commuters out of their cars.

A survey of riders showed that for  two-thirds of passengers took the trip  for recreation.

For that reason, if the service returns it will not include early morning trips from St. Petersburg that were targeted at commuters.

Of those who did ride, about 75 percent dined out at their destination and 30 percent visited a museum.

That and other spending passenger amounted to an economic impact of $1.6 million, Kriseman said.

"That's money spent in our two communities that might not have otherwise been spent," he said.

But its unclear how much of that spending would have taken place anyway. Spending on events or attractions like a ferry ride is often in place of other spending such as going to the cinema, economists say.

The seasonal service would help the county as it looks to start a ferry service between south Hillsborough and MacDill Air Force Base, Kriseman said.

The county has yet to finalize its 2019 budget but Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman said she has already instructed County Administrator Mike Merrill to earmark its share of the cost of the ferry. Commissioners voted unanimously in support of that move.

"It was a huge success and I think we get a big return on it," she said.

Kriseman's biggest obstacle may be convincing Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who earlier this month told the Tampa Bay Times that the ferry should be viable without subsidies. Tampa is also dealing with a $5 million anticipated shortfall as it prepares its 2019 budget.

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times