Cross Bay Ferry is set this season to continue sailing for another year, but with a planned discounted rate for Pinellas County’s share of the cost.
The company operates the ferry between downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg from October through May. The Hillsborough County Commission is scheduled to vote Wednesday to activate service beginning in the fall with local grants representing $760,000 for HMS Ferries Inc.
The grant, under a 2021 contract, was split between Hillsborough, Pinellas, and the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Last month, Pinellas opted out of the remaining three years of the deal.
The business group immediately rebuked the decision, with the executive directors of the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce saying in a joint statement that compromising the ferry “would be a step backwards for relieve road congestion, boost local commerce and provide affordable travel.”
Later, Hillsborough Commissioners Mariella Smith and Pat Kemp said the service should continue without Pinellas County’s involvement.
That apparently won’t be convenient.
“We want to continue to support the service, but on a more proportional basis,” said Pinellas County Deputy Administrator Jill Silverboard.
HMS ridership data, based on rider ZIP codes, shows that about 5 percent of riders are residents of unincorporated Pinellas County, he added.
Government staffers have tentatively agreed to a new formula in which Pinellas County will account for about 5 percent of the total subsidy, up from 25 percent, according to a report to Hillsborough commissioners from Assistant County Manager Thomas Fass. . A recently announced three-year, $518,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation will make up the difference.
Subsidies from local governments are scheduled to be $190,000 this year, then increase to $202,500 in October 2023 and $255,000 the following year to support an annual expansion of the service.
Silverboard added that the cost estimate assigned to Pinellas is “largely accurate,” though discussions have focused on a specific dollar amount rather than a percentage of the total subsidy. Five percent of the total grant would be $38,000 for the next year.
Under a planned multi-year agreement, Pinellas would send its grant to St. Petersburg to supplement that city’s annual financial contributions. The Pinellas commission could consider the proposed contract on July 19, Silverboard said.
Hillsborough must notify HMS of its intent to continue service by July 1.
“In Hillsborough County, whether it’s the county or the city of Tampa, we know we need transit and we know we want to go to Pinellas. In my opinion it is the right investment. I would prefer that Pinellas do their fair share,” Hillsborough Commission Chair Kimberly Overman said.
The ferry boarded more than 62,000 passengers in the season just ended, its best job in its fifth year of operation. HMS Ferries is scheduled to begin year-round service in the fall of 2024. Posted by The Tampa Herald, news and information agency.