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  1. Transportation

Carlton: The big boat across the bay is only the beginning

One morning this week, I sailed to work.

Okay, that's an exaggeration. I ferried from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa on the inaugural voyage of the biggest no-brainer ever to hit two cities separated only by bridges: the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project.

And once I got off that boat, it was downhill, transportationwise. Which is pretty much how we do progress on transit in these parts, in fits and starts.

But about that boat: A bunch of muckety-mucks, from elected officials to fuzzy Rays mascot Raymond, were invited on that first commute across the water, plus a bunch of reporters to record how it went.

How'd it go? It was gorgeous, with St. Pete's skyline behind you over your right shoulder and Tampa's soon up ahead on your left. (Stellar weather helped.) The big boat sports both luggage and bike racks, bathrooms — heads, to you salty types — comfortable inside seats with cupholders and outside seating for those willing, at least on this day, to brave the wind. And let me just say — that little snack bar that sells sodas could have make a killing by also offering a little Aqua Net and some elastic hair ties to those of us getting beaten to death by our own hair.

The one terrible moment involved an unlucky gull that hit a rail and was reportedly whisked off by a Florida Audubon crew when we docked, with plans for a protocol in place for the rare bird-hitting-boat occurrence.

But all in all, it was a big moment in how we get around in this traffic-clogged region. At worst, this could be a great option for both locals and tourists who want to visit the Other City for a Lightning game, a major festival, a hot new restaurant, a day of exploration or a general bout of partying. Serious commuter option, though? This seems more dubious, given issues of price, frequency and convenience. But I'd be happy to be wrong on that one.

On dry land in Tampa, the two mayors were shaking hands while another contingent got ready to board for the trip back to St. Pete. Me, I had to get to work. Which is when a little transportation reality set in.

I thought: I'll take Tampa's historic streetcar, which just increased its hours to entice people like me and which swings right by where the boat docks. Except it had just swung by, meaning at least another half-hour wait.

Okay, then the Downtowner, maybe — those cute new golf cart-like shuttles you summon like Uber, only free. I had tried it the first day, but 30 minutes and eight dropped calls between me and the driver later, I gave up. Instead of meeting a friend for some across-town deli, it was walkable-falafel. Opening-day kinks, I figured. But my post-boat attempt was no better, with a 14-minute wait time that didn't go down even as I waited. So I used the oldest of transportation options: I walked across downtown instead.

The pilot project to see how we like the ferry runs through April. I already like it.

Are we anywhere close to there yet when it comes to seriously connected transportation in the Tampa Bay region? Hardly. But maybe we're a little more on our way.

And trust me on the hair ties.

For more information on the ferry, go to crossbayferry.com. Contact Sue Carlton at carlton@tampabay.com.

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