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N.S. releases passenger numbers for 1st month of 2022 Cat ferry season

The province of Nova Scotia has released the passenger numbers so far this season for the Cat ferry, one day after the public works minister defended not doing so.

In a release, Kim Masland said Bay Ferries Limited — which runs the provincially subsidized Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry — provided the number of passengers who have travelled so far this season to the Department of Public Works late Thursday night.

According to those figures, between May 19 and June 16, a total of 2,888 passengers and 1,323 vehicles made a trip on the ferry.

They include:

With 16 trips during that time period, the numbers work out to an average of about 103 passengers and 47 cars per trip from Bar Harbour to Yarmouth, and 76 passengers and 35 cars per trip from Yarmouth to Bar Harbour.

The ferry, which costs taxpayers more than $1 million per year to run, has a capacity of 200 cars and 866 passengers per trip.

“Our government feels very strongly that Bay Ferries owes it to Nova Scotians to be fully transparent about how the service is performing,” Masland said in the release.

“We have requested that the operator provide daily updates on its website going forward, but the operator has declined. This is why we are providing these numbers directly today. If Bay Ferries will not be fully transparent, we certainly will be.”

It’s a change in tone from what Masland told reporters in legislature Thursday, when she said only the number of bookings — tickets sold rather than actual ridership — will be released on a monthly basis.

“We will release the actuals at the end of the season,” she said Thursday.

Bay Ferries said earlier this month that it had sold tickets for approximately 15,100 passengers who will travel throughout the 2022 operating season, “which is consistent with pre-pandemic historical patterns as of this stage of the season.”

Masland noted that the government is bound to a contract with Bay Ferries, which was entered into by the former Liberal government in 2018. The contract is set to run until 2026.

“I want to assure Nova Scotians that I will do everything possible to make sure Bay Ferries Limited is transparent and accountable to Nova Scotians,” Masland said.

Global News has reached out to Bay Ferries for comment.

In an interview Friday, Masland said she would like to see higher ridership, but it’s still early on.

“We are a new port, and the season did start earlier and has only been running four days a week,” she said. “As much as I’d like to see (the numbers) a lot higher, it is early in the season and I am hopeful that we’ll see higher numbers.”

The majority — 65 per cent — of bookings happen in July and August.

Asked why the change in heart in releasing the passenger numbers, Masland said: “I didn’t have these numbers yesterday.”

“This is a service that many Nova Scotians have asked questions about, and they deserve to know the numbers, and the numbers are out there,” she said.

While the Progressive Conservative government was still in opposition, they were critical of the McNeil government for not disclosing enough information about the Cat ferry.

In 2019, the Tories took the province to court over not disclosing management fees — and won.

This is the Cat’s first season in four years.

The last two sailing seasons were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the 2019 season was scrapped due to ongoing construction at the Bar Harbor terminal.

The international ferry route operated for more than half a century before ending in 2009, when the Nova Scotia government briefly eliminated an annual subsidy. In 2018, Bay Ferries announced plans to relocate its U.S entry point from Portland, Maine, to Bar Harbor.

Governments of all stripes in Nova Scotia have spent millions of dollars to keep the ferry service to the U.S. afloat in recent years, including $8.5 million on renovations for the Maine terminal under the previous Liberal government.

In February, Bay Ferries was ordered to release the management fees it receives from the Nova Scotia government.

The private ferry operator said under a deal dated April 1, 2018, it is paid $97,500 per month by the provincial government, equalling $1.17 million annually.

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