August 10, 2016 8:31 pm

Low ferry numbers won’t put taxpayers on the hook for more cash: MacLellan

WATCH ABOVE: The Yarmouth ferry season is halfway over and so far the passenger numbers are well below target. Global's legislative reporter Marieke Walsh looks at what the low ridership could mean for taxpayers.


The Yarmouth ferry’s low ridership won’t force taxpayers to pony up more cash, according to Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan.

Bay Ferries’ passenger numbers were 43 per cent below target between June 15 and Aug. 7.

The numbers were released by Bay Ferries late Tuesday afternoon. The company released the numbers in averages over each week.

Based on the data, the ferry has had 18,014 riders. In order to meet the 60,000 passenger target for the season, it would have already had to see 32,079 passengers.

Despite the slow start, MacLellan said the upward trend week over week is a positive sign that he hopes will continue.

To date he said, “there hasn’t been any indication from Bay Ferries that they will be requiring more money.”

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When the ferry deal was announced in March, the $23.3-million subsidy was tied directly to a passenger target of 60,000 people in the first season. However, MacLellan said other factors will offset the low numbers (for example, the price of fuel and revenue from on-board amenities).

Bay Ferries did not reply to requests for comment from Global News. In the past, chairman and CEO Mark MacDonald has said the company makes $2 million in revenue for every 10,000 passengers.

READ MORE: Yarmouth ferry lease hiccup could result in loss of passenger numbers, revenue

If the average from the first half of the season holds true for the rest of the season, the ferry could see roughly 34,000 passengers.

Meantime, if the ferry starts hitting its target–which the company says happened over the last weekend–it could see roughly 46,000 passengers. Either way, without a significant spike in passengers it’s not clear how the initial 60,000-passenger target will be met.

That could mean as much as a $5.2-million shortfall in revenue. The contract signed with Bay Ferries puts taxpayers on the hook for any shortfall in the company’s budget.

MacLellan said the government will wait until it gets the final numbers from Bay Ferries at the end of September before reviewing the service. But opposition leader Jamie Baillie said the low numbers should be prompting a mid-season review to find out if the government will have to pay more this year.

“We’re obviously going to be short of that under every scenario,” Baillie said.

“Nova Scotians deserve an update on how much more it’s going to cost.”

Ticket prices steeply discounted

As of Wednesday, Bay Ferries had four different sales available for the Yarmouth to Portland route.

The sales depend on when you travel and how many people you travel with:

  1. Three passengers travel for free, after you buy two adult tickets and a car fare.
  2. Three passengers travel for free, after you buy two adult tickets and a car fare. Plus, you get $100 off the entire fare if you have a minimum of two people and a vehicle for travel originating in Portland.
  3. Twenty-five per cent off if you sail Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
  4. $100 off vehicle fares for the entire season except Fridays and Sundays, if you are a Nova Scotia resident.

MacLellan said he’s “confident” Bay Ferries has already accounted for any discounts in its overall operating plan for the season and doesn’t expect the sales to affect the government subsidy.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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