November 21, 2012

Nova Scotia moving to revive Maine ferry service

Officials prepare to seek bids from potential providers of round trips to Portland, last offered in 2009.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Canadian officials are preparing to seek bids from companies with interest in restoring ferry service between Nova Scotia and Portland, which ended three years ago because it was losing money.

Today's poll: Nova Scotia

Would you use the Portland-to-Nova Scotia ferry if it was revived?

Yes

No

View Results

click image to enlarge

The Scotia Prince in 2003. Canada is working to revive Nova Scotia-to-Portland ferry service, which has been defunct since 2009.

Staff File Photo

Bay Ferries Ltd. of Prince Edward Island, which operated a high-speed catamaran between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, has shown interest in bidding for the service, for which the province of Nova Scotia has agreed to provide a $21 million subsidy.

Ferry service ended in 2009, when Bay Ferries stopped operating The Cat, which reportedly was losing $7 million a year, in part because Nova Scotia stopped subsidizing the service.

It's unclear whether the company would use a catamaran or a slower vessel for the new service.

Prospective bidders met Tuesday in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to discuss conditions for an upcoming request for proposals.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said Wednesday that he's pleased the process is moving forward. He said he's optimistic that ferry service will be restored because the province is committed to subsidizing operations during the start-up phase.

"It's clear there's going to be a strong commitment to making this happen," Brennan said. "The history of having a ferry between Portland and Nova Scotia has been a positive one. We would like to work with them to make sure this becomes a reality."

Nova Scotia is prepared to spend as much as $21 million over seven years to attract a long-term cruise ferry operation to Yarmouth.

A province-appointed panel of experts issued a report in September saying that ferry service to Maine could be viable if it provides a high-quality on-board experience, is supported by a sophisticated marketing strategy and leverages a strong tourist experience in southwest Nova Scotia.

The report said it would take an initial investment of $5 million for baseline research, advertising, vessel acquisition and financing to get the service running. Another $13 million would be needed to repair ferry terminals in Yarmouth.

Prospective operators will be expected to present plans to have a self-sustaining ferry operation once the government subsidy runs out.

Percy Paris, Nova Scotia's minister of economic and rural development and tourism, said the province is open to seasonal and year-round ferry services, if the operator is focused on giving passengers a quality overnight experience.

"We're leaving it in the hands of the bidders," Paris said. "If we move forward on this ... we want to make sure that it is going to be successful and it's going to be there for the long haul."

Ferry service between Portland and Yarmouth started in 1970, when the Prince of Fundy began operating. The Scotia Prince ran from 1982 until 2005, when a dispute over mold at Portland's International Marine Terminal and declining ridership prompted the company to stop the service.

The 485-foot Scotia Prince held 1,200 passengers and promoted itself as a leisurely cruise experience, with cabins, casino games and live musical shows. A one-way trip took about 11 hours.

The Cat, which held about 775 passengers, picked up the service from 2006 to 2009. It made the trip in about 5½ hours and offered aircraft-style lounge seats, four movie screens, slot machines, a cafe and a duty-free shop.

A draft of the request for proposals notes that 70 million people live within a day's drive of Portland and 30 million live within a six-hour drive.

"The northeast United States offers an enormous potential market for ferry passengers," the request says.

The draft asks bidders to identify the biggest risks to a self-sustaining operation and how they would address them. The type of ferry service isn't specified, but the panel of experts recommended Portland as a destination because it presents the best opportunity for a cruise-style -- rather than a high-speed -- ferry service.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Nova Scotia

Would you use the Portland-to-Nova Scotia ferry if it was revived?

Yes

No

View Results

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