Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Ferry and Numbers

We like boating around Tampa Bay area as much as anyone. It's a great way to get another perspective on the area, and enjoy even more what our community has to offer.

The Tribune editorial yesterday was imploring Mayor Bob Buckhorn to join forces with St. Petersburg to bring in a ferry service between the two cities so even more people can enjoy the bay.
The cost to launch a pilot ferry service connecting downtown Tampa with downtown St. Petersburg is relatively modest when the entirety of the city of Tampa’s budget is considered.

St. Petersburg has committed $350,000 toward the project, and Tampa could be expected to contribute a similar amount to get the project off the ground and operating on Tampa Bay during the winter months next year.

Yet Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn seems reluctant to embrace the project. He says he doesn’t have enough information to know whether the private company that is eventually chosen to run the ferry service would bear the risks rather than the taxpayers.
Buckhorn is practicing some rare fiscal conservatism for him.
“What I’m not going to do is subsidize a private company and put all the risk on the taxpayers and have the private venture have none of the risk and get all the profit,” Buckhorn said. “That doesn’t fly with me. I’m not anticipating putting a lot of city dollars into this.
He hasn't taken this stand since he voted against the Tampa Street Car when he was on the Tampa City Council.

Will we get a ferry?
Regardless, the Tribune is undeterred.
The downtown ferry would take about $1 million to run a single boat for the winter, or $1.5 million to run two boats. Backers of the project want to keep the price of a round-trip fare in the neighborhood of $10, making it affordable.

Only half of the total expense to get the service launched and running might be recouped. But the public cost is justified. A pilot project would provide an understanding of how a ferry between the downtowns might work and whether demand is great enough to sustain a regular service beyond the pilot project.

The investment could pay dividends down the road if the ferry proves to be a successful way to get cars off the road and connect the two downtowns.
They admit the revenues will cover "only half of the total expense", but hope springs eternal.

What about "if the ferry proves to be a successful way to get cars off the road?"

Can the ferry really take cars off the road? This looks like another great opportunity to apply some 4th Grade Math.

St. Petersburg has issued a Request For Quotation for a ferry provider. The main requirements are that it must run at 25 knots (28.75 mph), and accommodate at least 100 passengers.

The distance across the bay from the the proposed Tampa landing at the Convention Center to downtown St. Petersburg is about 20.5 miles. Yes, it really is that far.

The Tribune states the trip will take about 50 minutes. It will arguably be longer, as there is a 2 mile no wake zone in Seddon Channel which may take 15 minutes alone. But lets' assume with boarding, the ferry departs every hour on the hour, for a 12 hour service day, or 12 one way trips a day.

Let's assume the ferry is a big success, and every trip is booked full with 100 passengers. That's 1200 ferry riders a day. However, most of those will likely be making the round trip, so that's 600 people a day total.

If we estimate automobile volume, at 1.5 passengers per car, that is 800 round trips, or 400 cars per day. As in "cars off the road" due to the Tampa - St. Pete ferry.

If  another ferry is added for $500,000 as may be considered, then the capacity can be doubled from the above numbers.

Now compare that to the major traffic route between Tampa and St. Petersburg on I-275. According to FDOT, the busiest segment on I-275 around Westshore is nearly 198,500 vehicles per day (two - way).

With the ferry, then, we reduce the traffic on the Westshore segment of I-275 to... drum roll, please.... 197,700 vehicles per day (two - way).

Evidently, they don't teach math in journalism school.

We could do the math comparing the the ferry to driving between the two cities, but you get the point. Math is cold, hard facts.

Now, there is a value for tourists to make a day on the ferry visiting the cities. Nothing wrong with that. Adding a ferry to Tampa Bay seems like an attraction that many tourists and local can enjoy.

But it won't make a dent in traffic reduction if we had 10 loaded ferries running between Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Whether the Tampa - St. Petersburg ferry should be backed by the taxpayers is something for another day.

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