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Saturday, Jun 24, 2017
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Mayor Rick Kriseman: Ridership numbers show a need for ferry service between Tampa and St. Petersburg

CLEARWATER — With the ferry service between St. Petersburg and Tampa ending in April, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman vowed in front of the Pinellas County Commission to find money to help bring it back in November.

During a 30-minute presentation Tuesday, Kriseman told the commission that his staff is contacting federal and state officials to see what is required for those governments to possibly contribute money for the temporary service.

In a rare display of regional cooperation, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Hillsborough and Pinellas each pitched in $350,000, or a combined $1.4 million, for the six-month pilot study. HMS Ferries has operated daily service between St. Petersburg's North Yacht Basin and a dock in Tampa near the Convention Center since November.

Kriseman touted ridership figures that exceeded initial projections. Through February, 22,596 passengers had used the service, he said, noting that surveys have found that 72 percent of passengers live in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

"It's a big deal," said Kriseman, who told the commissioners he was not there Tuesday to ask them for more funding. "There is a demand for ferry service in Tampa Bay."

The contract with HMS Ferries required the firm to split ticket revenues with the four governments after the first $125,000 in ticket sales. As a result, Kriseman said $54,602 is being split among the governments. He predicted higher sales figures in March and April.

Ridership surveys also show that passengers have spent about $920,000 on dining and other attractions once disembarking the ferry, Kriseman said.

He noted the initial one-way cost to ride the ferry was dropped from $10 to $5, a move that drew more passengers. Kriseman acknowledged missteps when the boat could not run during January's Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of the Pirates and during one day of the College Football Playoff championship weekend.

Several commissioners expressed disappointment the ferry did not run during those events. Kriseman stressed that the boat could not dock in Tampa since the facility had been booked before the ferry contract was finalized.

He pledged to brief the commission again once the trial service ends.

Commissioner Dave Eggers said the figures need to show how many passengers were repeat customers or whether they were one-time riders trying out the service.

"The best news I heard is that you weren't here to ask for more money," Eggers said. "There's still a lot of questions to be asked."

Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente

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