City leader says Cross-Bay ferry is barely selling tickets

Ferry is six-month pilot project costing $1.4M
Posted at 6:30 PM, Dec 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-30 18:30:43-05

A Gulfport city leader is calling the new Cross-Bay Ferry pilot program a waste of tax dollars saying it's barely selling tickets.

Dan Liedtke, a city councilman in Gulfport shot a video on his cell phone showing just one person getting off the ferry on a run on December 6th.

"Hey were you the only passenger? You were the only one?" he asks the passenger in the video. "You had the whole boat to yourself?"

The Cross-Bay Ferry is a six-month pilot project launched by Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties and the City of Tampa and City of St. Petersburg. Each local government pitched in $350,000 in tax dollars for the project.

"Today, for example, they've only sold seven percent of the tickets," Liedtke told ABC Action News. "There's 500, 600 seats available and they've maybe only sold 42 seats."

Liedtke said one of the biggest problems is that the ferry is not simply fast enough going across the bay, with the average trip taking about 50 minutes. As a result, he said most commuters don't see that as a good regular option to get to work.

"It was supposed to help relieve congestion from the Howard Frankland and help people connect to Tampa," Liedtke said.  "This doesn't save anybody time or money. It takes twice as long and costs twice as much if you're traveling with two people versus taking your car."

However, the City of St. Petersburg believes differently.

"Is it working?" ABC Action News asked Ben Kirby, Communications Director for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

"You know, we've seen great, great numbers," Kirby said. "Better than expected on weekends."

Kirby said they have seen more commuters using the ferry during weekdays too. They say a video shot by Ed Turanchik, a local attorney, shows a much more accurate picture of the number.

Turanchik's video shows several dozen people getting off the ferry on the same ferry run a few weeks later.

"You guys don't have any issue with the number of riders? There's no concern there? " ABC Action News asked Kirby.

"No, no," Kirby said "It's not about concern or being worried about it. We've implemented this for six months to learn."

For now, Kirby said it's unclear at this point if the ferry service will continue after this trial period is over. He said they are looking to use data to see if the service is working, which will include looking at ridership numbers and commuter use.