DUNEDIN — After smoothly sailing through its one-year pilot program, Dunedin city commissioners approved a three-year extension with Clearwater Ferry Services to operate waterborne transportation between the city marina and Clearwater Beach.
City officials visualize the ferry providing alternative transportation to city events, or someday offering trips to Caladesi Island. Their hope is to use ferry service to reduce traffic congestion.
“The Clearwater Ferry has performed their operation to the satisfaction of the city with no boat traffic, parking or infrastructure issues, and therefore, city staff is recommending approval,” Vince Gizzi, parks and recreation director, told commissioners June 4.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski told ferry officials she would like to see a detailed look at ridership to determine whether additional travel days should be added, such on Thursdays during tourist season.
“Is there room to maybe do Thursday through Sunday, or does it look like we may be able to expand the service even farther?” she asked.
She added that through the efforts of Forward Pinellas, “officials are trying to figure out how ferry service can be connected with Jolley Trolley service, with the result being, maybe, having a one-stop drop ticket. “
“I know Forward Pinellas is looking for grant money for this. I know there are problems with the idea of the relationship, as compared to (Jolley) Trolley and PSTA; so we are going to try to work through that. I just want to say publicly that these are things we should be looking at and should be striving for,” the mayor explained.
The Clearwater Ferry owner, Trisha Rodriguez, said they are looking to add ferry service on days when major events are occurring in both Dunedin and Clearwater.
At the mayor’s suggestion, Rodriguez said they could consider providing ferry service during Toronto Blue Jays spring training days, depending on availability of boats.
The mayor added Tiki rides and other forms of transportation will have to be coordinated between the city marina and Blue Jays Stadium to transport those who arrive by ferry.
The ferry could operate on the Tuesday of Mardi Gras, and during Dunedin Wines the Blues, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo and other events, when the boat would have to sail later into the evening, she said.
Gizzi said they have already talked with the ferry operator about the possibility of adding spring training days to the boat’s schedule.
Commissioner Jeff Gow asked if there is a way to include trips to Honeymoon Island in an effort to help alleviate some traffic congestion on the Dunedin Causeway.
Rodriguez said her company has permission to go to Caladesi Island, but Honeymoon Island has a docking facility exclusively awarded to the Caladesi Island Ferry.
“However, it becomes a time issue,” Rodriguez explained. “It’s in our growth plan; let’s call it our five-year plan to have a bigger boat and include it in the Blue Line,” the route that runs from Clearwater Beach to Dunedin. “It’s a matter of progressing and analyzing this ridership to determine what we can do, how we can do it, and then funding that.”
She added riders are interested in timing of ferries and how often they can be there. Providing service to Caladesi will require more vessels, which comes down to funding.
Bujalski said Forward Pinellas is trying to get grant funding. Sen. Jack Latvala was working to get funding, Bujalski explained, but when he left office, “that sort of went away, so we had to start over.”
“The idea is to have ferry service all up and down the coast, but it starts somewhere,” the mayor noted.
The Clearwater Ferry, which started operating in 2015, began providing services every Friday, Saturday and Sunday to the Dunedin Marina on July 6, 2018. Ferry service currently operates from 11 a.m. until 9:45 p.m.
The fare for a one-way ride is; $8 for adults, $5 for Dunedin residents, $6 for senior citizens and military members, and $4 for children 4 to 12 years of age. The ride is free for children three and younger.
The ferry arrives and departs from Dunedin Marina eight times each day and sails to Clearwater Beach Marina, then onto Downtown Clearwater, and back to Dunedin.
According to Rodriguez, 53% of the ridership over the length of the trial program has originated in Clearwater. During the trial period the ferry has averaged 95 riders a day, or 11,099 passengers in 117 days.
Gizzi said Clearwater Ferry requested an extension to the term of its agreement for an additional three-year period, under the same terms and conditions as the initial services agreement.
According to the operator, USCG regulations do not allow captains to take any bikes on board the ferry. Vessels are equipped with ramps that fit all standard wheelchairs. All city docks are floating docks, which follows ADA guidelines. Guests who purchase their tickets online are boarded first, assuming they arrive at least 15 minutes prior to their departure time. There are no restrooms aboard the ship. All service animals are welcome, in addition to well behaved pets.
Commissioners voted unanimously to extend the Clearwater Ferry contract.