Pinellas joins Tampa, Hillsborough in ferry talks

Pinellas County commissioners became the third local government to conceptually commit to a proposed ferry service connecting downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg. 

In an action similar to the Hillsborough County commission's last week, Pinellas commissioners asked the county administrator to identify a source for its needed $350,000 contribution Tuesday.  

It amounts to one-fourths the amount needed to fund a six-month trial period for the ferry service, starting in October. 

"We're investing money in a pilot that might not work," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman admitted Tuesday. "But if it does work, then we're making a fundamental change in how things have been in this region for a long time."

Late last year, Kriseman convinced St. Petersburg's city council to set aside $350,000 for the pilot. Last week, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn tentatively expressed support, with a caveat for a more detailed business plan. 

Kriseman told Pinellas County commissioners - Tampa, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties all need to quickly identify funding sources so he can begin negotiating with a ferry operator next month. 

This gives him less than two months to finalize a business and operations plan, and convince four elected bodies to commit actual cash. 

"A vessel deposit would be needed by April first, so that's really the main timeline that we have to focus on" Kriseman said. 

A spokesperson for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said she did not know when Tampa's city council will consider the proposal. The two county commissions expect to know by the end of January where they would get money for the ferry pilot program. 

St. Petersburg plans to use some of the settlement from BP oil spill damages.