By Morgan Blauth, STAFF WRITER – The Oracle
Those who dread the driving commute between Tampa and St. Petersburg now have another option for transportation between the two cities: a ferry service that began Tuesday and is currently funded until April.
Tuesday morning, the Cross Bay Ferry took its maiden voyage from the Vinoy Yacht Basin in downtown St. Pete.
The first trip was for elected officials and VIPs from Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, City of Tampa and City of St. Petersburg governments, all of which collaborated on the ferry project. The passengers celebrated the four-way partnership, the first of its kind.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman emphasized the significance of the government partnership.
“We had four different government entities that came together, collaborated and are supporting this one transportation project. That has never been done before; first time ever,” she said. “So we are all very, very excited about what the future holds for this.”
Murman said that her experience on the ferry on Tuesday exceeded expectations and hopes that the public will use and enjoy the service.
“I think people will love it: it is fast, it is a very smooth ride and no bumps,” she said. “It was a windy day but it was a really smooth ride.”
The public will be able to take advantage of the ferry service starting this Friday. Transportation will be available for the general public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for the first three weeks, while the weekday service is reserved for businesses and other community groups.
During Thanksgiving week, free trips will be offered on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, though the service will be closed on the holiday itself.
Full-week service for the general public will begin the next day, Nov. 26, and run until April 30. Patrons can purchase tickets at the dock or online. The ferry will cost $10 each way for adults and $8 for children. For only $1 extra, passengers can bring a bike to explore their destination city.
“[The ferry] is actually our first premium transport project here in Hillsborough,” Murman said.
The first six months of the ferry service is a “pilot project.” If the ferry receives enough use, officials will consider continuing the service.
During the week (Monday through Thursday), the ferry will serve St. Pete passengers at 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., and Tampa commuters at 9:30 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. On Fridays, the ferry departs from St. Pete at 5:15 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. The boat will return from Tampa at 6:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
On the weekends, the ferry schedule changes to allow commuters more flexibility. On Saturdays, passengers can take the boat from St. Pete at 2:30, 5:15 and 9:15 p.m. From Tampa, the boat will depart at 4, 6:30 and 10:30 p.m.
Sunday travelers will be able to utilize the ferry at 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. from St. Pete, and at 12:30 and 7 p.m. from Tampa.
Murman said that the ferry is, “Using our waterway to our advantage for tourism, for getting to work, for just anything … it’s getting people out of their cars so they can really enjoy our water.”
The ferry will have on-board WiFi and outlets for passengers to charge devices.
Some USF students expressed excitement at the news of a ferry service.
Rebekah Anderson, a freshman majoring in biomedical sciences, said that she would consider utilizing the ferry for a beach day.
“I feel like it’d be fun if I went with my friends,” she said.
Gus Gagne is a junior majoring in English education. He said that the ferry doesn’t seem “efficient” for his purposes.
“I never really go out to St. Pete,” he explained. “It’s not really something that I would use even in that scenario probably … would I need my car when I get to the other side? That’s something else to think about.”
Murman believes that USF students will benefit from this alternative form of transportation. She said that the entertainment value of St. Petersburg is a draw for young adults.
“I think for millennials who are looking for alternative forms of transportation, that this will be a really important step for us,” she said. “It’s going to be good for everybody, whether you’re young, old, medium … whatever.”