Some experts suggest that the future of public transport in the Tampa Bay region lies with the use of our waterways. With that in mind, a few communities have ferry demonstration programs. The Cross-Bay Ferry began to travel between St. Pete and Tampa as a six month pilot project that will end this month.
Since the pilot was ending on April 30, I figured it might be the time to try this out. I visited the website last week to check out the schedule. The first thing that struck me was that this really isn’t a commuter ferry. On weekdays, the first ferry out of St. Pete is at noon and the last ferry out of Tampa is 5:30 PM. I guess for folks lucky enough to work four hours per day, this might work! But for someone working eight hours per day, not so much. For retirees, tourists, and some late rising students, though this is probably about right. We saw one person who actually looked like a commuter. Nearly everyone we talked to was, like us, a local…curious about the service.
I had read that the ferry was lightly used during the week, so I didn’t buy my tickets online. Turns out that was almost a mistake. We left home early, at 10:45, and arrived around 11:15, to get the noon ferry. Tickets were initially plentiful, but by 11:30, all the tickets for the returning 5:30 PM ferry had been sold. Parking was free for ferry riders and ferry tickets were $5 per person.
We boarded the boat 15 minutes before launch. My daughter, Caity and I sat up on the upper deck…seemingly less popular than the air-conditioned lower deck near the bar. The ride was uneventful, and took 55 minutes. The seas were calm. Many photo ops along the way. I rediscovered a filter on my camera that makes for interesting water shots. Most interesting is the Port of Tampa.
Once we arrived in Tampa, we had numerous options to enjoy ourselves. We decided to take the streetcar to Ybor City. I hadn’t been there for a while. We could also have headed up the Riverwalk on the west side of downtown. Strangely many of the bus options downtown don’t run this time of the day, so getting to Waterworks Park at the end of the Riverwalk, north of downtown Tampa, would have been a long walk. We had decided against bringing our bikes as we didn’t want to worry about them. We had also decided against the Pirate Water Taxi as being too expensive ($18 per person). It did look like a neat idea if one were spending a whole day visiting central Tampa.
The streetcar trip to Ybor City took 20 minutes. Lunch was at Hamburger Mary’s where I blew up my diet for the day with a bean burger and an awesome side of sweet potato fries. Coffee afterwards was at a neat place called the Blind Tiger…great coffee. Ybor City is quiet on a Friday afternoon, and I think most of the folks we saw walking around had come over on the ferry with us.
The trip back was at 5:30 and we were tired by then. I took more photos on the way back. The light is good that time of the day. For those who had missed out on tickets home, folks were selling unused tickets near the kiosk. We arrived back at about 6:30 and were home for dinner by 7:30.
Hopefully, the service continues as I think most of the people using the service seemed to enjoy it. Would I use the ferry rather than drive into Tampa? Probably not, as it we live too far from St. Pete and this adds at least an hour each way to the trip into Tampa. If someone decided to develop a service from our side of Tampa Bay to Tampa, I would definitely consider it. The problem though is likely to be cost. The initial cost was to be $10 per person. At that price, I might have been hesitant…particularly if parking wasn’t free. Apparently, private sector support has allowed the price reduction…so it isn’t clear whether this will be affordable. But for tourists staying near the waterfront, this is a great way to see the other side of the Bay.