It’s still a few months away from the June 21 start of The Cat ferry’s season but sales are already tracking above last year.
“It’s too early to draw any conclusions from that,” said CEO Mark MacDonald, adding that 2019 is another transition year which, “by definition, brings challenges.”
“We're cautiously optimistic. We're in market and selling at the moment, but also very focused on the project in Bar Harbor,” he said.
The Province of Nova Scotia is funding the renovation of the ferry terminal in Bar Harbor to accommodate the service. The cost of the renovation is $8.5 million Canadian.
Bay Ferries sailed the Yarmouth-to-Bar Harbor route starting in 1997, alternating with Portland starting in 2006. In December 2009 it announced it would no longer operate the service after the NDP government stopped subsidizing it. The subsidy was reported to be in the $6-million range.
For the past three seasons The Cat has sailed to and from Portland.
“Our employees are excited about the return to Bar Harbor,” MacDonald says.
Meanwhile for the first time since Bay Ferries’ return to the service in 2016, the company has prepared an operating schedule showing the next five years, which hadn't been possible prior to the Bar Harbor shift.
Bay Ferries employees attend major motorcoach industry events and remain in close touch with the industry. Pursuing and persuading that sector to book the service is part of growth efforts.
“The challenge is to give them confidence that the ferry service is here for the long term,” said MacDonald.
On March 27, MacDonald appeared before the Nova Scotia Legislature’s natural resources and economic development committee. He called for toned-down rhetoric about the ferry service, saying it has the potential to harm the service because it creates uncertainty.
Last year, a total of 50,185 passengers were carried between Portland and Yarmouth on The Cat ferry. Bay Ferries said that was an increase of 21 per cent from 2017.
Bay Ferries has seen its passenger counts go up each year since taking over the route in 2016, when it transported 35,551 passengers. In 2017 The Cat carried 41,623 passengers, despite having to cancel 25 per cent of its crossings due to an engine issue.
This year’s provincial budget includes $13.8 million in operating subsidy for the ferry service. Both Bay Ferries and the Nova Scotia Liberal government say the goal is to decrease the annual subsidy and it is felt the move to Bar Harbor as the U.S. port will help achieve this.
The sailing time between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth will be three-and-a-half hours, which will help reduce fuel and other operating expenses. The vessel will still overnight in Yarmouth, as it has in previous seasons.
For Nova Scotia residents there is also a Nova Scotia resident discount offered throughout the season that takes $100 US off of vehicle fares (each way) and $50 US off of motorcycle fares (each way).
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