Passengers interested in traveling to Atlantic Canada this summer can take advantage of discounts for booking tickets early on the high-speed ferry between Maine and Nova Scotia.
The promotion is being offered as Portland officials consider a request from Bay Ferries Ltd. to extend its sailing season by about a month. Bay Ferries operates the Cat service between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
Customers who book passage for the 2017 season before April 1 can save up to 25 percent off some tickets. The company is offering $125 off a round-trip ticket and $75 off a one-way ticket for two or more passengers and a standard vehicle between the two cities. Adult ticket prices range from $107 to $194 for round trip and $80-$141 for one-way passage, depending on seasonal sailing dates.
Bay Ferries started operating the Cat service last year, replacing the slower and more expensive Nova Star Cruises. The ferry carried 35,551 passengers in 2016, significantly fewer than its predecessor. Despite having fewer passengers, CEO Mark MacDonald, in an interview last October, said the company was pleased with its performance and was in better financial shape than Nova Star.
The company is also trying to extend its sailing season by starting about two weeks earlier and ending two weeks later than last year.
MacDonald told lawmakers in the Nova Scotia legislature in January that Bay Ferries was negotiating with Portland officials to extend its travel season into October in an effort to capture more fall travelers, according to a CBC news report. MacDonald didn’t provide passenger projections for the upcoming season to lawmakers, according to the report. MacDonald did not respond to an email from the Press Herald requesting comment Wednesday.
The ferry service started June 15 last year and ended Oct. 1.
Bay Ferries leases space at the Ocean Gateway terminal from Portland and the city also collects revenue from passenger and vehicle fees. Last year, Portland budgeted $72,000 in annual revenue from the ferry lease.
In an email, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said economic development director Greg Mitchell and maritime manager Kathy Alves presented Bay Ferries lease amendments to the city council’s economic development committee Tuesday in an executive session. The amendments will be presented to the committee for a public vote in early April, followed by a vote by the full city council in May, Grondin said.
Bay Ferries published schedule for 2017 runs from May 31 to Oct. 15. The service will run five days a week through the end of June, then six days a week until the end of July, and then seven days a week until the early September. It will go back down to five days a week in September, and four days from Oct. 3 to 15. It departs Yarmouth every day at 8:30 a.m. Atlantic time and leaves Portland at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time.
Even though the Cat carried about 16,500 fewer passengers in 2015 than the Nova Star did in its last year of service, MacDonald said in October the company expected passenger volume to grow as the service gained traction and attracted motor coach tours. Last year it received a $10.2 million (Canadian) subsidy from the Nova Scotia government to operate the service.
The Cat can carry at least 700 passengers and more than 200 regular passenger vehicles. It makes the crossing between Portland and Yarmouth in about 5-1/2 hours.
Speed was a selling point when the Nova Scotia government selected Bay Ferries to operate the route in 2015, after terminating an agreement with Nova Star after two disappointing seasons. The Cat’s crossing time is about half that of the bigger Nova Star ship. Bay Ferries operated an even faster ferry between Portland, Bar Harbor and Yarmouth until 2009, when Nova Scotia canceled the service because of increasing taxpayer subsidies because of declining passenger volumes and rising costs. The province agreed to resume the ferry in 2012.
Ferry travel between Maine and Nova Scotia, once a popular route, has declined as more travel options have become available and fewer Americans visit the province for vacation.