Clearwater Ferry New Dunedin-Clearwater Beach Route
At their June 5 meeting, Dunedin commissioners unanimously approved a one-year pilot program that will allow ferry operators to test the waters of whether it is financially feasible for them to provide service on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, from the noon hour to about 10 p.m.
To prevent a long wait for the ferry, which will make seven trips a day and can handle up to 21 passengers, travelers will be asked to make reservations on the Clearwater Ferry website prior to boarding.
The ferry operator explained a reservation system is required so people will have a guaranteed seat aboard the next ferry to sail and not have to wait on the dock. However, a few standby seats will be available.
Vince Gizzi, Dunedin Parks and Recreation director, said “we have been trying for two years to make it happen.”
Ferry service will begin July 6, with a grand opening planned the weekend of July 13.
During this period, the Clearwater Ferry will study the ridership and determine if the purchasing of more vessels is applicable for long-term water transportation services and if a formal partnership with the city of Dunedin is possible, Gizzi told commissioners.
“The trial program also will give the city of Dunedin the opportunity to study their ridership and determine; whether this is beneficial to our residents and merchants, what parking issues might this service create, if this service will cause congestion in and out of the marina and whether the infrastructure can handle this type of commercial venture,” he explained.
“This is new and exciting,” Tricia Rodriguez, Clearwater Ferry owner said.
Gizzi said when surveyed about expanding service, “Dunedin was the number one requested destination for Clearwater Beach tourists and Island Estates residents.”
When first presented to the commission the fee schedule included; one way passes at $8 per adult, $6 for seniors and $4 for children over 3 years of age, with Dunedin residents offered a discounted rate of $6 per trip.
However, Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski advised the ferry operator that $12 for a round trip was a bit pricey for locals, compared to other forms of transportation, such as the Jolley Tolley.
“I’m concerned that a round trip on the ferry will cost more than taking the trolley,” Bujalski said. “I’m really concerned that a $12 roundtrip for one person will hurt the pilot program.”
At first Rodriguez said it’s a challenge to lower fare further, but “we don’t want to be the more expensive mode of transportation.”
After giving it some consideration, Rodriguez offered to lower the price to $5 in each direction for Dunedin residents.
“We’re just looking to break even with water transport,” she said.
“I’ll take it,” the mayor said, and the trip price was reduced for locals.
Monthly passes to take the trip from Clearwater to Dunedin is $98 for an adult, $78 for a senior citizen or Florida resident and $38 for a child over 3 years of age. A yearly pass is $525 for an adult, $350 for a senior citizen or Florida resident and $150 for a child over age 3.
The ferry will dock on a floating pier, improved with pilings to stabilize its berth at the far eastern end of the city marina, Gizzi said. On the Dunedin side of the voyage, visitors coming by car to ride the ferry to Clearwater will be directed to park at the Monroe Street lot.
Traveling in the other direction, the ferry will give visitors to Clearwater Beach a chance to shop and dine in Dunedin that has the “quaintness that doesn’t exist in Clearwater,” Rodriguez said.
“To develop a line for Dunedin gives me goose bumps,” said Commissioner Heather Gracy.
Commissioner Maureen Freaney said “personally, I think it’s an exciting adventure. I plan to try it myself.”
While the city of Clearwater contributes about $100,000 a year, as part of a two-year agreement to provide ferry service between its downtown and beach, as a pilot project Dunedin will not have to subsidize its part of ferry service, Gizzi said.
Commissioner Deborah Kynes said she thinks the ferry is “going to be wonderful in Dunedin” as another form of transportation.
She thanked Rodriguez for the discounted residential price, saying she wants “Dunedin residents to feel as good about it as do trolley.”
Heather Gracy said she is “very supportive” of the service, calling it “a great component to a coastal community.”
The Clearwater Ferry Service opened in March of 2015 and currently provides water transportation to employees, residents and tourists in the Intracoastal waters of Pinellas County. Bujalski said she wants the Ferry to attract residents from northern Pinellas, just like those that ride Jolley Trolley. The Ferry operator said it will provide the city with monthly ridership reports.