Return of the cat: Bay Ferries sells tickets for 2022 ferry crossings

The high-speed passenger ferry between Nova Scotia and Maine is scheduled to depart this spring for the first time since 2018.

Although the Cat ferry has been docked for the past three seasons, the Nova Scotia government has paid Bay Ferries $1.17 million a year to operate the ship, with no revenue to offset the expenses.

Mark MacDonald, CEO of Bay Ferries, said raising customer awareness will be among the challenges of restarting the service, which begins May 19 with four crossings a week on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday.

The service will increase to seven days a week on June 23. Starting September 11, the service will increase to six days a week until it ends just after Thanksgiving.

“Our philosophy in setting the schedule for this year has been to try to stretch it as much as possible just to support tour operators in our province,” MacDonald said.

Advance tickets for the 2022 sailings are available on the Bay Ferries website.

The ship last sailed between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and Portland, Maine. This year, however, he will make the 3.5-hour trip between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor, Maine.

Nova Scotia taxpayers paid $8.5 million to renovate the Bar Harbor ferry terminal and relocate a loading ramp from the Portland terminal.

The Cat ferry will run between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbor, Maine, starting May 19. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

MacDonald said work on the Bar Harbor terminal is complete, but final commissioning of the equipment cannot be done until operations begin. The Yarmouth Ferry Terminal, which has also undergone upgrades, is “in good condition,” MacDonald said.

The salaries of US Customs and Border Patrol agents at the Bar Harbor facility will also be paid by Nova Scotia taxpayers.

During the last sailing season in 2018, the Cat carried 50,185 passengers. MacDonald wouldn’t put a number on expected passenger volume in 2022, but he said Bar Harbor is an “incredible destination” and the company is excited about the prospects.

Cost issues

Since resuming service in 2016, Bay Ferries has been plagued with challenges.

The ferry did not operate during the 2021 and 2020 seasons due to border restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2019 season was canceled when the port of call in Maine was moved from Portland to Bar Harbor and things weren’t ready on the US side to receive the ferry.

Responding to concerns raised over the years about the costs associated with the service, MacDonald reiterated that the Cat “is the province’s ferry service.”

“The province decided to have this ferry service and they have a contract with our company to operate it,” he said.

“The mechanism of this contract is very simple, that the province reimburses the cost and pays a management fee and now includes it in some of the cost figures … that the province spent in Bar Harbor, for example.”

He said if the company had known the pandemic would last this long, it might have been able to mitigate some costs, but other fixed costs would have remained.

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