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Cross-Bay Ferry sells more than 5,400 tickets in December

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

More than 5,400 tickets were sold for the Cross-Bay Ferry between Tampa and St. Petersburg in December, organizers said on Wednesday. That’s up from the 4,700 tickets sold in its inaugural month of November.

The six-month pilot project is a collaboration between four local governments: the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg, along with Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. All four contributed $350,000 to pay for the cost of the pilot, which was spearheaded by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, and later by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“We are learning the lessons that only a real-life test can provide, which is why we wanted to run this six-month pilot project,”  said Kriseman in a statement. “So far, people are voting with their feet to ride it. That’s a great sign for developing a better future around our Tampa Bay waterfront.”

Officials say that weekday ticket sales (Monday – Thursday) started out slow in December, but ticket sales doubled in the third week of the month and tripled during the fourth week, with more than 1,700 weekday tickets sold.  Weekend ticket sales totaled 3,734.

“Those results show strong community interest in the ferry, especially given the ferry did not run during two holiday ‘blackout’ days, and during several days when weather closed Port Tampa Bay to all commercial vessel traffic, including cruise ships,” officials said on Wednesday.

The local governments are working with Seattle-based HMS Ferries on the Cross-Bay Ferry service. The company reported $64,213 in net revenue in November, with tickets sales recovering 46 percent of operating costs. “That is the highest recovery of operating costs of any transit operation on the west coast of Florida,” said Turanchik, who is working as a consultant to HMS. “This single vessel with limited operation is recovering two or four time more of its operating costs than our existing bus systems and lines in the Tampa Bay region.”

Turanchik and HMS Ferries first began working together several years ago on a project that would connect from the south shore area near Apollo Beach to MacDill Air Force Base.  That project is on hold before environmental impact studies are completed.

Once the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project ends in April, local officials will analyze the numbers and discuss whether they want to continue the project.

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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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