ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A new nonprofit group, Tampa Bay Ferries Alliance (TBFA), formed last month with the mission of bringing year-round ferry service to Tampa Bay.
“We’ve grown to the point where it requires a year-round service,” said Michael Ball, TBFA chairman. “We know there’s a demand. People can see the utility of it.”
Ball said the group’s biggest priority currently is educating the community about the advantages of the service, which include a reduction in roadway traffic congestion.
“No traffic, no tolls, nothing along those lines,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about whether there’s an accident somewhere.”
The permanent ferry service would also be cost effective and increase economic development, according to Ball.
“Improve the quality of life for people here in Tampa Bay,” he said. “Help bring jobs.”
TBFA President and CEO Tanya Doran believes the group’s united voice will make permanent ferry service a reality, after eluding local leaders for nearly a decade.
“Tampa Bay has had different organizations pop up and say, ‘We want to do this,’” she said. “This is a nonprofit, independent nonprofit organization, collaborating with multiple voices. So, that we can have a united voice to come together and make this happen together.”
Doran said the first phase is a commuter ferry that connects residents in south Hillsborough County to MacDill Air Force Base. According to a letter of support from the Tampa Bay business community, more than 60 percent of MacDill’s 15,000 employees live in south Hillsborough County.
“As a veteran who wasn’t able to benefit from the ferry ride but wish I could have, this is me giving back,” said Ball. “Reaching back to those who do serve, and oh, by the way, MacDill is the biggest employer in the area.”
Ball said the Mosaic Company has given TBFA permission to build a ferry terminal on its land just north of the Big Bend power station in Apollo Beach. A drive from that area to MacDill takes about 30 minutes. A ferry would cut that time in half, according to Ball.
“It’s about a 15-minute ride,” he said. “I do know on the commuter service to MacDill there is federal assistance that helps pay for those types of services. So, it would be free to the service member.”
Ball said the Cross Bay Ferry has given locals a sample of the benefits of ferry service.
More than 300,000 riders have used the Cross Bay Ferry since the service first began in 2016. Last month, the Cross Bay Ferry broke its single-season ridership record by transporting more than 62,131 riders. The service runs from October through May.
“It’s helping a lot. I mean, the Cross Bay Ferry sells out every Friday and Saturday night,” said Ball. “We know there’s a demand. People can see the utility of it.”
TBAF also wants to add more daily trips on the ferry route from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa. The newly formed group hopes to have permanent ferry service in place in a couple of years, according to Ball.