The Nova Scotia government received four bids to continue its Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry service next year, presenting an opportunity to improve upon two years of disappointing performances.

Brian Taylor, spokesman for Geoff MacLellan, minister of transportation, said the bids were received by the Friday deadline to operate a seasonal ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth in 2016. The bidders are confidential, but the current operator of the service ā€“ Nova Star Cruises ā€“ is assumed to be one of them.

“Staff will now be evaluating what was submitted to determine which meet the criteria of the (request for service) and can move forward for consideration, which should take several weeks,” said Taylor in an email.

The service is considered important to Nova Scotia’s tourism industry. After a four-year hiatus, a Yarmouth-to-Portland route was re-established by Nova Star Cruises in 2014, which introduced the Nova Star, a modern luxury vessel with a capacity to ferry more than 750 passengers. But the service has been operating in rocky financial waters since it resumed.

A 2011 consultant hired by a Yarmouth business group projected the service would carry 120,000 passengers in the first year. A different panel working for the provincial government in 2012 projected the service would carry 110,000 passengers.

Instead, the Nova Star carried 59,000 in its first season.

The numbers were expected to improve this year because the company had more time to market its service to bus tour companies, but the ferry is on pace to carry even fewer passengers than its inaugural season. Through August, the ferry had carried 37,800 passengers, a 6 percent decrease from the 40,347 it had carried through August last year. The goal this season was to ferry 80,000 passengers, according to Mark Amundsen, CEO of Nova Star Cruises.

The province spent $28.5 million (Canadian) for the service in its inaugural season, which included a $21 million loan that was intended to last seven years. This year, the government limited its subsidy to $13 million, equal to nearly $10 million (U.S.) at current exchange rates.

A delegation of Nova Scotian officials came to Maine in June to solicit support for the service. The state has offered to help back a $5 million loan from a commercial bank for the service, but no bank has stepped forward.

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