ST. PETERSBURG — The Cross-Bay Ferry returns to Tampa and St. Petersburg Thursday afternoon with plans to run Tuesdays through Sundays for the next six months, but organizers and local officials want something more far-reaching and regular.
"This next phase, we hope, is going to be a bridge" between "a seasonal service and a permanent ferry service that connects our communities," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said Wednesday.
Organizers hope for 40,000 passengers between now and April 30. That's about what they got during a pilot project two years ago, but some things have changed since then.
For one thing, fares are cheaper this time: $8 one-way for adults, or $2 less than in 2016, $5 for seniors, active or retired military service members and college students and $3 for children 5 through 18 when accompanied by a parent.
For another: This winter the ferry will run more often in the evening, and not at all on Mondays, when the boats were mostly empty. Organizers hope the later hours allow and encourage passengers to cross the bay, go out for dinner or watch a Tampa Bay Lightning home game, and catch the boat home that evening.
"We'll probably try it," said downtown St. Petersburg resident Rory Carney, 36, who stopped by the dock Wednesday with his daughters Ella, 6, and Mara, 3. "It's probably not something we would do super often, but maybe to go get dinner or lunch or have an activity day with the kids."
Because of construction on both sides of the bay, the ferry also will have new locations for its docks.
In St. Petersburg, the ferry will dock at the North Yacht Basin on Bayshore Drive NE near Straub Park. Passengers who buy a ferry ticket can park for free in the SunDial garage at Second Street and Second Avenue N. In Tampa, the ferry will dock behind the Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Drive.
"Our goal has always been to ensure that once people get off the boat, there's some ways to move them around, since they won't have their car with them," said Karen Kress, director of transportation and planning for the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
In Tampa, ferry riders will be able to step off and take the TECO Line Streetcar for free, rent a Coast Bike, hail the recently expanded Downtowner electric shuttle service, or head out onto the Riverwalk. In St. Petersburg, the free Looper trolley bus runs right by the dock.
Since the end of the pilot ferry service in early 2017, Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp said, "people would grab me and say, 'Commissioner, when's that ferry coming?' " She understood exactly how they felt.
"This is something that Atlanta doesn't have and Charlotte doesn't have and Denver doesn't have," she said. "We need to make sure this not just the start, but we need to keep it year after year and we need to make it grow. We need to have a regional ferry system here."
Ferry operator HMS Ferries of Seattle will collect ridership data that could help gauge the market for commuter ferry service between southern Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base — a trip that can take the better part of an hour in by car, but 13 minutes by boat.
The service's six-month run is being supported with $150,000 each from Tampa, St. Petersburg, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and the Florida Department of Transportation.
"We're fully on board," said David Gwynn, secretary of the Florida Department Transportation district that covers the Tampa Bay area. The agency has set aside funds "so we can continue to be partners in the future and make sure that this isn't just a one-year type of service."
"We're seeing a lot of people want to move to Florida," Gwynn said, "and we've got to find ways to move people. It can't all be on the roads."
Contact Richard Danielson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times