TAMPA, Fla. -- The Cross Bay Ferry on pace to eclipse last year's record ridership of nearly 53,000 riders.
The ferry shuttles passengers between Tampa and St. Petersburg six months out of the year, from November through April.
Kitty Rose, of St. Petersburg, says it's a great opportunity to explore Tampa without getting stuck in traffic.
"This is what entices friends to go with us over here and do all that," said Rose. "Every time we come, we hit up a museum and of course, a restaurant."
According to operator HMS Ferries, Inc., ridership grew 36 percent this season, with some crediting the hike to increased exposure and moving Tampa's dock from the Florida Aquarium to the Tampa Convention Center.
December 2019 saw a 50-percent hike in riders compared to December 2018.
"We need to book ahead of time, otherwise, we’re gonna get locked out so when we want to make a trip, we book it ahead of time," said one passenger Wednesday.
"We are off to an exceptional third season," said Matt Miller, President of HMS Ferries, Inc. "The move back to the Tampa Convention Center has been huge, and we continue to see ridership gains on all other service days."
Attorney Ed Turnachik, who represents HMS Ferries, says growing success means Tampa Bay is a market made for year-round service.
Turanchik says a $35 million investment by local governments would secure up to four ferries operating permanently for years to come. The expansion would add a route between south Hillsborough County and MacDill Air Force base for commuters.
"The bridges cost a lot of money, the bay is free, it’s beautiful, and it’s congestion-proof," said Turanchik. "There’s no cheaper way of moving people around the bay than water transportation."
Mayor Jane Castor issued a statement on potentially expanding ferry services in Tampa Bay:
"The Cross-Bay Ferry is a great addition to the region that allows riders to enjoy both sides of the bay. Not only does it better connect our great cities, but it allows locals and visitors to enjoy one of the greatest things about our Florida waterfront! By embracing more mobility options to connect our region, we can meet transportation demands while improving the quality of life for residents across Tampa Bay. We look forward to looking at ways we can make this, and many other projects, a permanent commuter option."