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  1. Opinion

What do the ferry, bike share and Downtowner have in common? They’re not real transit. | Editorial

Let’s call these things what they are and what they aren’t.
The Cross-Bay Ferry, St. Petersburg's Coast bike share program and the Tampa Downtowner [Times files]

Taking a leisurely bike ride through downtown St. Petersburg or Tampa on a bike-share is pleasurable, but it’s not a consistently viable way to get from point A to point B, when point A is your house and point B is your job.

The Cross-Bay Ferry is a lovely, scenic ride across the bay, but it’s not a transit option from Tampa to St. Petersburg when it only runs Wednesday through Sunday November through April and barely offers 9-to-5 weekday rides.

And the Downtowner may be a great way for students to get from class to the grocery store, but it’s not a substitute for a car.

Let’s call these subsidized activities what they are: Nice amenities for tourists and some residents of Tampa Bay, but absolutely not mass transit.

St. Petersburg’s bike-share program

This is a bike rack on Central Avenue in the Grand Central District. [Times (2018)]

Fare: $15 an hour, $25 a month or $99 a year

Public cost per passenger: About $13, but that number comes largely from a $1.5 million start-up cost the city paid in 2016 to buy the bikes and set up the software. The bicycle management and operation is run at no cost to the city, other than a recurring, annual $60,000 connectivity fee. That means the overall $13 per passenger subsidy will go down over time.

Total trips a month: An average of 3,000 rentals a month

The Downtowner

The Tampa Downtowner's fleet now consists almost entirely of Chevy Bolts. [KAIJO, CHARLIE | Tampa Bay Times]

Fare: Free

Public cost per passenger: $5.32

Total trips: 560,000 rides in the past three years; December 2019 averaged 448 people a day.

The Cross-Bay Ferry

The Cross Bay Ferry, Provincetown III leaves the Vinoy Yacht Basin, with passengers headed to Tampa's Channleside area near the Florida Aquarium. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]

Fare: $8 per person, discounts for students, children, seniors and military

Public cost per passenger: Roughly $14 per trip

Total trips: 33,000 rides in the last three months

So what’s the problem?

It’s lovely to see residents or tourists alike bicycling along the waterfront, ferrying along our waters or getting a free ride through downtown.

But none of those postcard scenes negate that these are assets to our community because they are amenities, not a viable form of mass transit. Let’s focus the public discussion on the real challenge: Whether it’s bus rapid transit in dedicated lanes, light rail lines or a new technology, Tampa Bay’s greatest challenge remains creating a viable mass transit system that moves people efficiently throughout the region.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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