Pinellas County commissioners appear poised to get on board a high-speed commuter ferry between St. Petersburg and Tampa.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the item during Tuesday’s meeting. If the commission agrees, Pinellas would become the fourth government to collaborate to fund the six-month pilot program. The Hillsborough commission and the Tampa and St. Petersburg councils have already signed on.
“If I’m reading the tea leaves, it’ll pass 6 to 1,” said Charlie Justice, chairman of the Pinellas Commission. The possible holdout, he said, would be Dave Eggers, who has expressed reservations about the project.
If the Pinellas Commission signs on, it, like the other governments, would put up one-quarter of the $1.4 million cost, or $350,000. In Pinellas’ case, the money would likely come from BP settlement monies. Commissioners had said they wanted to use the $7.1 million in settlement funds for one-time, one of a kind, statement projects and other innovative ideas.
“I think it’s what this kind of money is for,” Justice said.
The main purpose of the pilot ferry service is to measure whether a ferry service can be sustained in the future for the Tampa Bay region. The pilot will measure demand for commuter and non-commuter service, pricing feasibility, revenue generation, consumer preferences, marketing effectiveness and impact on vehicle use.
Assuming Pinellas does join the others, the ferry service would likely begin sometime this fall. Under the proposed agreement, HMS Ferries would provide a minimum of two trips between St. Petersburg and Tampa Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays and Sundays. There would 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.
The first $125,000 generated from the service would go to HMS, and any income above that would be split among the four governments.
Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long said she’s going to vote for the pilot.
“To me, it’s a no brainer,” Long said. “I think it’s worth a shot to see.”
Ferries are a common mode of transportation all around the world, she said. Long said she spent some time in Savannah, GA. There was a ferry just outside her hotel, she said, that took her to the other side of the river for free.
“It was just part of their transportation system,” she said.