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Cross Bay Ferry to sail with discounted Pinellas subsidy

A state grant will supplant most of Pinellas’ past contribution.
The Cross Bay Ferry, Provincetown III leaves the Vinoy Yacht Basin, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, with passengers headed to Tampa. The Hillsborough County Commission is scheduled to vote Wednesday to continue the service for another year. Under a tentative plan, Pinellas County's share of the annual subsidy would shrink to about 5% of the $760,000 cost to be provided by local governments and the state Department of Transportation.  TIMES (2019)
The Cross Bay Ferry, Provincetown III leaves the Vinoy Yacht Basin, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, with passengers headed to Tampa. The Hillsborough County Commission is scheduled to vote Wednesday to continue the service for another year. Under a tentative plan, Pinellas County's share of the annual subsidy would shrink to about 5% of the $760,000 cost to be provided by local governments and the state Department of Transportation. TIMES (2019) [ SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jun. 13|Updated Jun. 13

TAMPA — The seasonal Cross Bay Ferry is poised to continue sailing for another year, but with a discounted fare planned for Pinellas County’s share of the cost.

The Hillsborough County Commission is scheduled to vote Wednesday to renew the service beginning in the fall with local subsidies accounting for $760,000 to HMS Ferries Inc. The company operates the ferry between downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg from October to May.

Under a 2021 contract, the subsidy was divided equally among Hillsborough, Pinellas and the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Last month, Pinellas opted out of the remaining three years of the agreement.

The business community immediately rebuked the decision, with the CEOs of the Tampa Bay Chamber and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce saying in a joint statement that jeopardizing the ferry “would be a step backward from relieving roadway congestion, boosting local commerce and providing affordable travel.”

Later, Hillsborough commissioners Mariella Smith and Pat Kemp said the service should continue without Pinellas County’s involvement.

That apparently won’t be the case.

“We want to continue to support the service, but in a more proportional share,” said Jill Silverboard, Pinellas’ deputy county administrator.

HMS ridership data, based on passengers’ zip codes, shows an estimated 5 percent of the riders are residents of unincorporated Pinellas County, she said.

Government staff members have tentatively agreed to a new formula in which Pinellas County will account for approximately 5 percent of the total subsidy, down from 25 percent, according to a report to Hillsborough commissioners from Assistant County Administrator Thomas Fass. A recently announced three-year, $518,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation will make up the difference.

The local governments’ subsidies are scheduled to be $190,000 this year, then increasing to $202,500 in October 2023 and to $255,000 the following year to support an annual service expansion.

Silverboard said the cost estimate assigned to Pinellas is “largely accurate,” though discussions have centered around a specific dollar amount rather than a percentage of the total subsidy. Five percent of the total subsidy would be $38,000 for the coming year.

Under a planned multi-year agreement, Pinellas would forward its subsidy to St. Petersburg to supplement that city’s annual financial contributions. The Pinellas commission could consider the proposed contract July 19, Silverboard said.

Hillsborough must notify HMS of its intent to continue the service by July 1.

“In Hillsborough County, whether the county or the city of Tampa, we know we need transit and we know we want to go to Pinellas. In my opinion it’s the right investment. I would prefer Pinellas did its fair share,” said Hillsborough commission chairperson Kimberly Overman.

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The ferry carried more than 62,000 passengers in the just concluded season, its best showing in its fifth year of operation. HMS Ferries is scheduled to begin year-round service in the fall of 2024.

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