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Cross-Bay Ferry returns Nov. 1 with lower prices and later voyages

The Cross-Bay Ferry cruises along the Vinoy Yacht Basin as it heads toward Tampa after a 3 p.m. departure from downtown St. Petersburg last winter. This coming winter, the ferry will dock behind the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa because its dock at the Tampa Convention Center will be closed for construction. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
The Cross-Bay Ferry cruises along the Vinoy Yacht Basin as it heads toward Tampa after a 3 p.m. departure from downtown St. Petersburg last winter. This coming winter, the ferry will dock behind the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa because its dock at the Tampa Convention Center will be closed for construction. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Published Oct. 16, 2018

The Cross-Bay Ferry returns Nov. 1 with lower ticket prices and voyages that sail later for dinner-time and evening-out trips to Tampa and St. Petersburg.

One-way fares will be $8 for adults — $2 less than during the ferry's first season two years ago — with discounts for children, seniors, college students and active or retired military.

The service will run Tuesday through Sunday, dropping Mondays, which had poor ridership, in favor of later hours. The idea is to allow passengers to have dinner or catch a hockey game across the bay and still catch the ferry home.

"We found out that there was very strong ridership in the evenings during the week and on weekends, so we're tailoring this service to meet what customers' demands and interests were," said Ed Turanchik, an attorney for operator HMS Ferries (and a candidate for mayor of Tampa).

That said, the Sunday schedule will feature just two round trips to accommodate a cruise ship calling at the port on that day. Service is scheduled to continue six months through next April 30, though organizers say there likely will be some tweaks to the schedule around the Christmas holidays.

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. The dock, roughly at 418 Bayshore Drive NE, is near Straub Park and the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort. The cheap option for parking, Turanchik said, will be at the SunDial garage, which will offer a shuttle to the ferry terminal. With proof of a ferry ticket, parking there will be free.

In Tampa, the ferry will dock behind the Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Drive, because of construction at the Tampa Convention Center. The board of Port Tampa Bay voted Tuesday to approve the berth and waive dockage charges and passenger fees.

"Basically, we're doing a $500,000 in-kind donation for this project," said Hillsborough County Commission chairwoman Sandra Murman, who sits on the board of Port Tampa Bay. But it's worthwhile, she said, because it creates new opportunities for tourists and residents to enjoy the bay. "This is about using our waterways."

In Tampa, the ferry will dock at Berth 271, usually the home dock for the aquarium's Bay Spirit II, next to the American Victory Ship. Port officials said the location will deliver passengers to the doorsteps of the aquarium, the Victory Ship, the Tampa Bay History Center and, when it opens, the Sparkman Wharf beer garden and collection of shipping-container restaurants.

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The ferry service is being supported with $150,000 each from Tampa, St. Petersburg, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and the Florida Department of Transportation.

BACKGROUND: Cross-Bay Ferry will run again between St. Petersburg and Tampa

That's less than in 2016-17, when Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and St. Petersburg and Tampa each contributed $350,000 to pay for the pilot program. The ferry sold more than 37,000 tickets, with weekend rides being the most popular. During the pilot program, HMS reimbursed $120,000 to local governments.

This time, the first $200,000 in revenue generated by the ferry will go to the four governments. The next $200,000 will go to HMS, which is based in Seattle. After that, profits would be split evenly between the member governments and HMS.

As it did during the ferry's first season, HMS will survey passengers on board. Turanchik said that data will be used in connection with a ridership study underway for a project that could bring ferry service between southern Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force Base.

"Our belief is that there is a strong water transit market here for 14 hours a day, seven-day-a-week transit service," said Turanchik, who is a policy advisor on the MacDill ferry project

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Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times