You Paid For It: Cross-Bay Ferry ridership — boom or bust?

Cross Bay Ferry
Cross Bay Ferry

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Two people commuted to Tampa Monday morning on the Cross-Bay Ferry. The return trip was delayed due to fog. Last week, one passenger disembarked during a mid-morning run to St. Petersburg.

That draws a dismal picture for ferry critic Dan Liedtke, a Gulfport City Council member who took it upon himself to video record the lone passenger arriving in St. Pete last week as evidence of lacking ridership.

“I was surprised,” Liedtke said. “I expected to see at least two. I was hoping for 20 to 50. Liedtke believes the investment of $1.4 million by the Pinellas County, St. Petersburg, Hillsborough County and Tampa governments, that You Paid For, is money down the drain.

Ed Turanchik
Ed Turanchik

“I consider it a definite waste of taxpayer money and if you can’t save people time or money what’s the point,” Liedtke said.

But Ed Turanchik, a Tampa attorney who works as a consultant for HMS Ferries, believes that overall ridership numbers during the Cross-Bay Ferry’s first month have been a huge success.

“It’s extremely popular,” Turanchik said, after citing much bigger ridership numbers for weekends when the ferry that links St. Petersburg’s downtown with Downtown Tampa is most popular.

“There’s nothing like giving it the old college try as opposed to going to the experts and saying, ‘Oh well, this is gonna work or not work at least we have real life experience with that,'” Turanchik said. “I think that’s invaluable.”

The overall numbers, according to a spreadsheet supplied by HMS Ferries, indicate 7,491 people took one-way trips on the ferry during November, mostly during weekends or on free rides. Turnachik says the ferry sold 58 percent of its inventory during that period. During that period 4,719 people purchased tickets and the “test the waters” familiarity trips that were either free or to some degree sponsored by local organizations accounted for 1,751 passengers. Free Sunday rides sponsored by Frontier Communications accounted for 389 passengers.

“It’s a pilot,” Turanchik said. “We’ll take a look and understand its limitations.”

Turnachik insists there is a huge commuter demand for MacDill Air Force Base workers who want to commute on the ferry from Apolllo Beach, but there are logistical obstacles currently in the way of allowing that service.

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