Water ferry service to shuttle tourists, locals around Madeira Beach

Published Oct. 21, 2015

MADEIRA BEACH — A water ferry will soon offer tourists and residents another way to explore Madeira Beach.

The ferry service is made possible through a proposed public-private partnership with the city.

"We are really excited about this," city manager Shane Crawford said Monday. "There are a lot of people staying here and on Treasure Island who will be able to take a water taxi to their destinations."

If the ferry service is successful in Madeira Beach, Crawford said, it could easily expand to include other shoreline cities throughout the south county: Treasure Island, St. Pete Beach, South Pasadena, Gulfport and St. Petersburg.

Waterborne transportation has been studied in Pinellas County for more than a decade, but this would be the first time the service would actually be implemented in a public-private partnership.

"Madeira Beach is the leader. They have stepped up to support waterborne transportation and should get all the credit," Capt. Mark Hubbard of Hubbard's Marina said Tuesday.

Hubbard proposed a public-private partnership to establish the ferry service, which he said is necessary to make the concept work.

A study conducted by Pinellas County in 2002 found that "some form of public support will likely be necessary" to institute a waterborne transportation system in the county — either capital to build appropriate docking facilities or operating assistance in order to keep fares low.

Hubbard said while a ferry service would increase mobility, it also would reduce the number of cars and need for parking throughout the service area, as well as decrease the cost of future roadway maintenance.

"Additional routes can be added without impacting the existing transportation infrastructure," Hubbard said.

Last week, the City Commission threw its support behind the proposed service. Now, Hubbard and city officials are negotiating the terms of an agreement that would make it a reality.

Commissioners informally approved spending about $25,000 annually to support the ferry service, as well as to seek grants to help upgrade docking facilities throughout the city.

Initially, the proposed water taxi would operate three days a week (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) during tourist season and two days a week (Saturday and Sunday) during the rest of the year.

On other days, the ferry boats would be available as on-call taxies or for special events.

Water ferry stops might include the new City Hall and recreational complex, the new Marriott Hotel, the Madeira Beach Marina, several city pocket parks, locations along Gulf Boulevard, Bay Pines and docks on both the Madeira Beach and Treasure Island side of John's Pass.

Hubbard said he hopes to have the ferry service operational by late February or early March.

Ferry service may be available even sooner for special events, such as the planned December concert by the Florida Orchestra at the band shell in the new city recreation complex.

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Concertgoers would be ferried between the City Center dock to a gangway loading area at the Madeira Beach Middle School beach where ample parking is available.

Hubbard said he is already searching to buy two 49-passenger boats to use as ferries at a cost ranging from $80,000 to $150,000, depending on whether they are used or new.

In addition to the ferry service planned for Madeira Beach and possibly other cities in Pinellas County, Hubbard is working with the city of Anna Maria in Manatee County to establish a ferry service that would take passengers to Egmont Key and Fort DeSoto Park.

Eventually, there could be a tri-county ferry system connecting Pinellas, Manatee and Hillsborough counties.