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Cross-Bay Ferry revenues health enough that money is flowing back to taxpayers

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Although some transit supporters have downplayed its relevance, the Cross-Bay Ferry has some positive news to share.

Officials with the ferry announced Thursday that for more than a month, revenues from ticket sales and concessions have surpassed the initial $150,000 fee guaranteed to Seattle-based HMS Ferries, with all that profit flowing back into the four local governments that put up a total of $1.4 million in seed money to fund the public-private partnership. The Cross-Bay Ferry began operations in November and is slated to end at the end of April.

Under the terms of the contract, HMS was allowed to collect the first $150,000 in ticket sales with the governments from the city of St. Petersburg, Tampa, Pinellas County and Hillsborough County guaranteed any additional income. All four local governments contributed $350,000 to help fund the project.

“The tipping point was right at the end of January,” says Rich Mullins, a spokesman for the ferry project.

Since that time, $9,909.40 in additional funding was returned the four counties. The February check will be $44,693.27.

“We also are seeing an acceleration in ticket sales,” said Ed Turanchik, the Tampa-based attorney who represents HMS Ferries.

Turnanchik says a big surprise is that the ferry is doing just as well during the week as it is on weekends, no doubt buffeted by the reduced $5 fares for weekend day service.

A key metric for transit and roadway systems are the recovery of operating costs, since all are subsidized. Turanchik says the ferry is returning a very favorable 37 percent fare box rate, which he contends is the best in the state for any transit system currently.

(Both local transit agencies – HART and PSTA – are said to have fare box recovery rates in the low 20 percentile range).

Although it will still apparently be years before Hillsborough County completes the necessary environmental impact studies to release federal funds for the proposed ferry project with HMS and the county that would connect Southeastern Hillsborough County residents near Apollo Beach to MacDill Air Force Base, Turanchik says that the relative success of the cross-bay ferry bodes well for that project, where he says the ferries could run from Tampa to St. Pete during the middle of the day and weekends, while the crucial bread and butter part of the program would be transporting people from the south shore area to the base during commuting hours in the morning and evening, Monday through Friday.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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