Hillsborough County have approved the next step in a proposed pilot program with the city of St. Petersburg that will introduce high-speed ferry service running from Tampa to St. Pete beginning this fall.
The 6-0 vote (Commissioner Stacy White was absent) came after a brief appearance by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has been the public official spearheading the public/private partnership with HMS Ferries.
The County Commission originally earmarked $350,000 for the seven-day-a-week ferry service between the Vinoy Basin St. Pete and the Tampa Convention Center in January. Kriseman has made similar deals with the local governments in Pinellas County, the city of Tampa, and his own local government. The mayor is now going back to all the local governments for approval of the business plan, negotiated over the past several months.
Kriseman said the pilot project would run from November 1, 2016 to April 30, 2017 and will operate every day of the week, with two trips scheduled Saturday-Thursday and three trips on Friday. As of now, the price of a one-way ticket will be $10.00. “Because this is pilot, we are prepared to do adjustments to the ticket prices if necessary to further gauge ridership and long term price point impacts,” he said. There would also be special packages for weekly commuters or those who purchased a monthly pass.
The mayor said the first $125,000 of the county’s $350,000 would go to HMS for marketing and infrastructure costs not previously budgeted. If those costs exceed $125,000, HMS would absorb the costs. If there is any profit over $125,000, those profits would be distributed equally among the four governments.
If all of the other local governments agreed to the business plan, the city of St. Petersburg will pay a non-refundable vessel deposit of $50,000 on July 1.
“This is an awesome project,” enthused County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who has been a strong supporter of the proposal.
“I wholeheartedly support this,” added Commissioner Victor Crist, who said such a partnership was “well overdue,” and said it will be more successful and profitable than most people realize.
MS is already in a partnership with Hillsborough County to run high-speed ferries between Apollo Beach and MacDill Air Force Base. That project is delayed pending environmental permits.
Ultimately, Kriseman will return back to the board for the next step in the process, the signing of an inter-local agreement between the county and the city.