Cross-Bay Ferry brings new mobility options to Tampa Bay

Ed Turanchik and Rick Richmond aboard the Cross-Bay Ferry.

Ed Turanchik and Rick Richmond aboard the Cross-Bay Ferry.

He may not be the Ferry Godfather – that title might belong to Ed Turanchik – but when Tampa Electric’s Rick Richmond joined Turanchik and others on one of the first voyages of the new Cross-Bay Ferry last week, he highlighted a TECO-sponsored connection poised to change how the public navigates the area.

And surprisingly enough for a body of water that’s about 400 square miles, that now includes by boat.

The ferry is a 98-foot catamaran with capacity for nearly 150 passengers per trip, which takes about 50 minutes one way. From a dock at the Tampa Convention Center to another at the Vinoy Basin in St. Petersburg (and back), the ferry is ideal for tourists and commuters alike. Tampa Electric was a sponsor of several of the ferry’s inaugural “Testing the Waters” voyages.

“Being on the ferry was pretty exciting,” Richmond said. “The views from the water were refreshing – Tampa’s skyline, the Port with its new orange and white gantry cranes, and MacDill Air Force Base; you just can’t get that perspective from the road.”

As a member of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Citizens Advisory Committee, Richmond has also enjoyed close-up views of – and the opportunity to participate in – the decision-making processes that are tackling the issues of a growing region and the vehicle traffic that comes with it.

In some ways, it’s a good problem for an area to have. And with creative solutions like the ferry, borne from open minds and strong partnerships in the community, it’s a problem we may get a handle on yet.

“The Cross-Bay Ferry pilot expands transportation options for those living in the urban core and comes at a time of increasing density in the cities it will serve,” Richmond said. “If successful, adding this ferry service is likely to support and encourage the continued growth of the downtown area.”

Like Richmond, Laura Crouch, director of Community Relations with Tampa Electric, had high praise for the ferry.

A view from the Cross-Bay Ferry.

A view from the Cross-Bay Ferry.

“Providing reliable electricity for the community is obviously the cornerstone of our business, but when the area grows in exciting ways, it makes it more attractive for businesses to start or relocate here – which means more jobs and a stronger community for everyone,” she said. “The opportunity to help community organizations like the Tampa Downtown Partnership, Greater Brandon Chamber, South Tampa Chamber and Tampa Bay History Center “test the waters” through a preview of the ferry service is one we welcomed at Tampa Electric.”

It’s the next step on the road to more options that give people the freedom of mobility beyond the roads they drive on. This includes the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) In-Towner and a well-received bicycle-sharing program downtown. It also includes a Premium Transit Study by HART to identify options, routes, potential ridership and avenues for funding premium transit, including light rail, commuter rail, express bus service and more.

For the moment, however – for Richmond and a ferry full of passengers – the excitement is on the water, with good signs for the future in its wake, by land and sea alike.

“These are certainly exciting times for living in Tampa and Hillsborough County.”

The Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project will offer $10-one-way tickets for the public, Nov. 26 and through April 30, 2017.