Ferry ridership rebounding, officials say

- Since launching last November, ticket sales for the Cross-Bay Ferry from downtown Tampa to downtown St Petersburg are nearing another all-time high, an advisor says.

In the first week of March, ferry officials say, they've sold more than 2,000 tickets.  They expect sales by the end of March to surpass record-high February sales.

"Ridership was good in November. December and January, with the holidays and cold weather, it went down. Since February, it's really been kicking up," said Ed Turanchik, project advisor for the Cross-Bay Ferry.

The line of more than a dozen passengers waiting to board the ferry leaving from outside the Tampa Convention Center on Thursday evening was a notable improvement from a video recorded by Gulfport Councilman Dan Liedtke on December 6, as a single passenger stepped off the ferry on a Friday morning.

Many of the riders said they were visiting the Tampa Bay area.

"We're here as snowbirds. This is our first winter," said Patty Cottengain of Indiana. She was among the passengers who rode the ferry for the first time on Thursday from St Petersburg to Tampa.  "Some friends of ours that live in the park where we live came last week. They loved it, so there's 10 of us that came today.”

The $50,000 generated since February is allowing ferry officials to start paying back the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg, as well as Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, all of which helped sponsor the $1.5-billion pilot project.

Officials said the project is helping local leaders to determine if a ferry route from MacDill Air Force Base to southern Hillsborough County could gain a large ridership.

"The success of the project has really got the county going on starting up the MacDill Commuter Project. If we can bring that online, ferries will go between south county and MacDill between commuter hours,
and those same ferries will be available for daytime, evening and weekend service," said Turanchik.

One rider from St. Pete to Tampa said a successful ferry route would require more frequent stops than the Cross-Bay Ferry currently offers.

"I wish they'd have more trips back and forth," said Don Sieber. "You have to leave [St. Pete] at 7 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon. There's nothing in between," he added.

Ferry officials said the ferry has had a greater economic impact on local businesses than some of the sports teams.

"When people go to sports events, they typically go and buy things inside the sports venue. When people get off the ferry, they're going to local businesses, they're shopping, they're dining and they're going to museums," said Turanchik.

The pilot program is set to end on April 30, which will end the Cross-Bay Ferry service. Officials are hoping more people will give it a try before April.

"It’s catching on. People are understanding it's here, and a $5 fare during the week is pretty good for each one-way trip," added Turanchik.

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