Higher gas prices. Long commutes. Those who live in St. Pete but work in Tampa, or vice versa, may get an alternative to clogged highways and gas-guzzling drives.
A local group is proposing a water taxi service that will ferry passengers across Tampa Bay during a 30 to 40-minute scenic boat ride.
The only catch?
Ride The Tide, Tampa Bay, is tying its future to the future of the St. Petersburg Pier.
“When the Pier got threatened, we then joined forces with Vote On The Pier,” said Rand Moorhead, who heads Ride The Tide. “A water taxi station could help renovate the pier, upgrade it, shine it up and give it new life that a lot of people are contemplating.”
Tom Lambdon, organizer of VoteOnThePier.com, agreed. He said "The Lens" design – the proposed Pier replacement – does not allow for a water taxi service.
"As we all know, it is a given that the only way the Water Taxi – connecting the Pier with Downtown Tampa can ever happen – is if city voters have the opportunity to vote to preserve and refurbish the existing Pier through referendum," Lambdon said. "There is absolutely no way for it to be integrated into the city-planned Lens proposal."
The Vote On The Pier group has more than 13,500 petitions signed but needs to reach 15,648 petitions to force the city to hold a public referendum on the demolition of the current Pier.
"So another magnificent opportunity will be lost forever, if the Leslie Curran Lens proceeds forward," Lambdon said about the potential for a water taxi. "Major (cities) all over the country are using similar water taxi or ferry services to bridge communities across similar distances over similar bodies of water in a fun and cost effective way.
"But, this will just be another example of the St. Petersburg’s lack of vision and value (for the) long term by forcing 'the Lens' upon city residents without a vote to demolish the existing Pier," Lambdon added.
Passengers would hop on at the Pier and the taxi would drop them off in downtown Tampa, presumably in Channelside. Each boat would be able to hold up to 300 passengers for the 13-nautical mile trip.
“As we enter the league of great world cities, it’s imperative that we take advantage of our water resources,” Moorhead said. “Any great society it the world has a water taxi: San Francisco, Baltimore, New York, Sydney, London and even New Orleans.”
While he has consulted with water captains and taxi services, Moorhead said that it is too early to start throwing out numbers for how much the project may cost.
Moorhead said a water taxi service is also a much cheaper alternative to other mass transit options, such as light rail.
“They seemed to be focusing on trains from the two downtown out into the rural suburbs,” Moorhead said. “It’s like kind of putting a Band-Aid on a huge gash.”
He said the Pier is the only place in St. Pete where a drop off point would make sense. The Pier is near downtown offices and the restaurants on Beach Drive. Other options, such as Demens Landing, would be too far away for most ferry riders who will need to walk to their destination, Moorhead said.
The water taxi service, Moorhead said, is not just a pipe dream but he admits that there will be no taxi without the Pier.
“The first thing to do is save the Pier,” he said. “If we do, it does increase the chance of getting a water taxi service going. We do need to upgrade our transit systems and the easies and cheapest and most fun way to is to get people on a boat."