YARMOUTH, N.S. – The Cat ferry’s numbers are in for the month of June and, according to Bay Ferries, during 16 round trips the ferry carried 6,723 passengers over a three-week period from the time the season started on June 8.
This compares to 7,749 passengers Bay Ferries says it transported in June 2017 when The Cat made 21 round trips after starting its season earlier on May 31.
By comparison in June 2016, which was Bay Ferries’ start-up year for the Nova Scotia-Maine ferry service, the boat had carried 3,651 passengers in 16 round trips.
Bay Ferries’ June passenger figures differ slightly from figures the City of Portland has released, where its figures are 6,701 passengers over a three-week period in June 2017 (3,963 passengers departing Portland and 2,738 arriving) and 7,677 passengers over a four-week period in June 2017.
During the month of June this year, the Cat ferry was sailing five days a week between the ports of Portland and Yarmouth. In July and August – the peak travel time of the season – the ferry is scheduled to make a round trip every day.
“In 2018 we are being more cautious on capacity in the shoulder seasons given higher fuel prices. We're encouraged by the results,” Bay Ferries president and CEO Mark MacDonald said on July 25 about the June numbers. “Sales have been strong in recent weeks. At this stage we're expecting 2018 will show strong growth over 2017.”
The ferry carried 41,623 passengers in 2017, which was an increase from the previous year when 35,551 passengers were carried. Bay Ferries had been hoping for a higher figure in 2017 but was only able to operate 84 round trips instead of its planned 112 round trips due to an engine issue that caused a modification of its sailing schedule, along with cancelled crossings.
As it works to rebuild the ferry service, MacDonald notes during the June shoulder season, when fewer people are travelling, The Cat has seen an increase in the average number of passengers on return crossings. It was 228 in June 2016 and 420 in 2018 during the same number of round trips.
The province’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal says the ferry is receiving a $10.9-million operating subsidy this year. MacDonald says the company is looking at ways to make the service more efficient and to bring costs down.
The ferry company has approached Bar Harbor with a proposal to sail to and from Bar Harbor, instead of Portland, as early as next year. The company says the shorter sailing in terms of both distance and time on the water – 106 nautical miles to Bar Harbor compared to 186 nautical miles to Portland – would save fuel and crew costs.
Bar Harbor also opens up access to a tourism market that sees around 3.5 million people visiting Acadia National Park per year and Bay Ferries’ historical data shows Bar Harbor traffic on the boat is more consistent throughout the week, whereas in Portland it peaks on weekends, with shoulder-season traffic tending to be higher in Bar Harbor.
Bay Ferries operated ferry service between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth from 1997 to 2009. Up until the year 2006 the company says it operated that service with no government subsidy.
At a July 17 meeting, the Bar Harbor town council approved a motion to consider the proposal put forward by Bay Ferries that comes with an early-October decision date.
Tourism Nova Scotia says the international ferry link is an important part of the province’s overall tourism infrastructure and it supports Bay Ferries exploring ways to make the service more efficient and cost effective by looking at the Bar Harbor market.
“We are pro-ferry at Tourism Nova Scotia and we’ll be supportive in any way we can,” said Tourism Nova Scotia CEO Michele Saran. “We know that people that arrive by ferry spend more than people that arrive by car and we know that they travel around the province quite significantly. The ferry is good for Nova Scotia.”
The Cat ferry overnights in Yarmouth and all provisions, including fuel and food, are purchased in Nova Scotia. While the marine crew is American – based on where the ship is registered – there are around 100 people in Yarmouth who have employment directly related to the ferry operation, both onshore and on the boat.