The number of people taking the ferry between Portland and Nova Scotia is down from this time last year despite a change in ferry operators, although the passenger counts appear to be rising as the tourist season picks up.

According to numbers released Friday by the city of Portland, which collects a share of the passenger fee, 3,616 people took The Cat ferry in the two weeks it operated in June. Of those, 1,534 took the ferry from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, to Portland, and 2,082 took the ferry from Portland to Yarmouth.

The operator, Bay Ferries Limited, launched the service June 15, which accounts for only two weeks’ worth of trips. But that number is about 15 percent below half the amount of what the previous operator, Nova Star, ferried in the entire month of June 2015.

This year’s early traffic is more on pace with 2014 numbers. A total of 6,768 people were carried in June of that year.

Bay Ferry corporate officials could not be reached for comment Friday.

In a press release issued earlier this week, Bay Ferries noted that average daily passenger counts had been growing with each week – 181 in its first week, 285 in its second week and 307 in its third week.

Government officials from Nova Scotia and Portland said they were encouraged by the growth.

“We remain optimistic,” said Portland spokesman Jessica Grondin. “With something like this, we realize there is going to be a ramping up. They’ve just restarted ferry service, and tourist season has just started, too. It’s still early.”

Nova Scotia Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan told the Global News in Canada that the ferry is below the government’s target number of 500 passengers a day, but noted the average number was steadily climbing.

“This is about the entire season,” he told the paper. “I think everyone would anticipate there may have been a slow start, given the realities of rebuilding the market.”

The province had been withholding early passenger counts, saying it wasn’t worth releasing the numbers until September, after the peak of the season, but Bay Ferries released its “growth trend” statement in advance of Portland’s release of June passenger counts Friday.

Portland has budgeted $72,000 in annual revenue from its leasing of port space to Bay Ferries, Grondin said. That money goes into the city’s general fund. The city made $11,259 in June from passenger and vehicle fees, but it doesn’t count on that revenue, she said.

“We’ve decided to be conservative about that,” Grondin said.

In addition to people, the ferry carried 1,196 vehicles, three buses, 170 motorbikes and 38 bicycles in the last two weeks of June.

The newly renovated ferry has a capacity for 700 passengers and 200 cars.

The service, considered an important component of Nova Scotia’s tourism industry, operates daily from Portland to Yarmouth, although Friday’s route was canceled because of high winds, according to its ticket agency.

The route had been operated for the past two years by Nova Star Cruises, which never met passenger projections, despite nearly $40 million in provincial subsidies. Last year the Nova Scotia government awarded the contract for the 2016 season to Bay Ferries, which put into service a much smaller, faster vessel.

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