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Pinellas County leaders vote to renegotiate Cross Bay Ferry agreement

"We received a lot of emails from people that support the ferry. We support the ferry too – that’s not the question," Pinellas Co. Administrator Barry Burton said.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As the Cross-Bay Ferry season winds down after a record-breaking year, Pinellas County leaders are pushing for the chance to change how it operates.

The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to negotiate a new agreement for the ferry to ensure it's "making the best use of public dollars."

Pinellas County is currently part of an interlocal agreement with the city of St. Petersburg, Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa to subsidize the ferry that brings travelers across Tampa Bay. But before any changes can be made, the local governments will need to ditch the current contract to even open up the floor to new suggestions.

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton is set to issue a letter terminating the current agreement to which the other local governments will need to agree to by June 1. They'll then have until Aug. 15 to renegotiate a new Cross Bay Ferry agreement before the fall season begins.

“We received a lot of emails from people that support the ferry. We support the ferry too – that’s not the question. The questions are the terms and the transparency of the information provided in the agreement,” Burton said in a release.

What changes are the Pinellas County commissioners pushing for exactly? During Tuesday's meeting, they mentioned the need to get more data directly from the ferry operator, HMS Ferries, and the desire to have a more active role in finding long-term solutions for supporting future ferry service and expansion. According to the board, this includes identifying alternative funding sources.  

St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch issued a statement expressing optimism that the local governments will be able to craft a new agreement and pushing for "full and consistent participation and information-sharing among all partners."

Here's his full statement:

"The Cross Bay Ferry for years now has served as an innovative transportation option to get from downtown St. Pete to downtown Tampa and avoid traffic congestion and unpredictable travel times on our bridges. The Ferry is an economic driver for cultural attractions and small businesses, as well as a job supporter as it induces locals and visitors alike to cross the bay and spend money within each of our communities. Increasing ridership and public sentiment for the service evidences the need to continue the service and make it a sustainable transportation option for the long term. 

"Importantly, our city acknowledges the need for full and consistent participation and information-sharing among all partners, including Pinellas County, and we are optimistic we will be able to work together to craft an updated agreement. Let’s be mindful that the system must grow beyond what it is today to make a major impact on public transportation and traffic congestion, and there are many other pressing transportation needs that will require cooperation and investment, not the least of which is improving our primary bus service."

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