With a 5 to 1 vote, Pinellas County on Tuesday became the fourth governmental body to collaborate on the launching of a high-speed ferry between Tampa and St. Petersburg.
The vote cements a deal among St. Petersburg, Tampa and Hillsborough County to link the two counties by a high-speed ferry.
The lone holdout was Commissioner Dave Eggers who has opposed the proposal from the beginning. Among Eggers’ objections are a lack of market research on the viability of the project and the high risk of failure.
“I’m not in favor of this project for a number of reasons,” Eggers said. “I can’t support the use of public funds for a risky venture with no market research to back it up.”
Eggers was not the only skeptic. Largo resident Jeff Moakley said he believes officials are “frivolously” spending money for a “government subsidized boat ride on Tampa Bay.”
“It’s strictly a Petersburg and Tampa issues. It’s not a county issue,” Moakley said. “You’re just throwing away $350,000 to subsidize something two mayors want so badly they can’t see straight.”
If all goes well, the ferry will launch Nov. 1 for a six-month pilot project to test the viability of the idea. To get the project going, four governments – St. Petersburg, Tampa, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties – have each agreed to put up $350,000, or one quarter of the total $1.4 million cost of the pilot. Pinellas’ portion will come from BP settlement money.
The purpose of the pilot is to test the viability of a ferry service both for daily commuters and for tourists who wish to cross the bay. Plans are for HMS Ferries to provide a minimum of two trips between St. Petersburg and Tampa Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays and Sundays. There will be a minimum of three trips on Fridays. Officials believe that schedule will test both the commuter market and the tourist market.
The ride would cost $10 for a one-way ticket although St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said officials are working on weekly and monthly passes at greatly reduces fees. The fees for children who ride the ferry might also be lower.
“The rate … is going to help determine the ridership,” Kriseman said. The difficulty, he said, is finding “that sweet spot” for a cost that encourages people to ride the ferry but also provides profit for HMS, the private company running the ferry.
“I think you’re going to see different rates,” Kriseman said.
Commissioner Ken Welch said the cooperation among the four governments was unprecedented and boded well for future projects, “except the Rays. We’re going to keep them in Pinellas County.”
Welch made the motion to support the ferry. Pat Gerard seconded his motion. John Morroni, who is on sick leave, did not vote.
Kriseman gave each a sea captain’s cap to celebrate the deal.