Ferry Facts – Q & A


How long has the Nova Scotia-Maine ferry service been running?

A ferry had continuously operated between Nova Scotia and Maine for more than 100 years, prior to the former NDP Government cancelling the service in 2009.

What happened when the NDP cut the ferry service?

Tourism dried up. Businesses closed. Jobs were lost. Families were forced to move away. The economic impact was felt not only in southwest Nova Scotia, but across the province.

Why is the Nova Scotia – Maine ferry important?

The Nova Scotia-Maine ferry is a vital part of our transportation system, like the Trans-Canada Highway, and important to our tourism industry, particularly in southwest Nova Scotia. Businesses, large and small, benefit from the money spent by visitors who choose to come to our province via the ferry.

It is clear this service generates economic success. Towns and communities are bustling with tourists, keeping shops, restaurants, and inns busy. Local business owners have said the ferry service is a vital part of the economy, and owners of the Rodd Colony Harbour Inn cited the service as their reason for a $2.5 million investment to reopen their Yarmouth-area hotel. Endorsements don’t get much stronger than that.

More than 50,000 people took the ferry last year. Tourism in the region has seen significant growth as a direct result of the ferry service. Since 2013, when the ferry service resumed, room nights sold (June-Sept) have increased by 54%. Since 2013, occupancy rates have increased to 71% (up from 41%).

In 2017, visitors who took the ferry, on average, spent $2,200 per party in the province, compared to $1,250 from average visitors. They stayed an average of 7.9 nights and were far more likely to stay in paid accommodations than the average visitor.

The Nova Scotia-Maine ferry creates a transportation loop within the Maritimes that can be directly linked to growing tourism numbers. 85% of passengers who use the ferry are American.

Why are we subsidizing the ferry service?

All ferries in Nova Scotia are subsidized. The Nova Scotia-Maine ferry is an important economic driver for southwest Nova Scotia and we’ve seen the positive results of this investment. Tourism numbers are up. Businesses are investing and creating more jobs.

After the NDP recklessly cut the ferry service, the impact was felt across southwest Nova Scotia. And it is going to take time to rebuild and stabilize this service.

What about the other ferries in Nova Scotia?

All ferries in Nova Scotia are subsidized. Ferries are a vital transportation link that connect us to our neighbours in New Brunswick (Digby ferry), Prince Edward Island (Caribou ferry), Newfoundland and Labrador (North Sydney ferry), and Maine (Yarmouth ferry). Ferries also connect communities within Nova Scotia including the Tancook, Lahave, Petit Passage, Grand Passage, Little Narrows, Englishtown, Country Harbour, and Halifax/Dartmouth ferries. Each of these ferries is subsidized by taxpayers because they are important transportation links.

Who benefits from the ferry service?

All regions of Nova Scotia benefit from the Nova Scotia-Maine ferry. Visitors don’t just stay in the Yarmouth area. There were more than 50,00 visitors who used the ferry last year, and they traveled throughout Nova Scotia including…

  • 89% visiting the Yarmouth area
  • 74% visiting the South Shore
  • 64% visiting the Valley and Bay of Fundy areas
  • 60% visiting the Halifax area
  • 30% visiting Cape Breton
  • 23% visiting the Northumberland area
  • 8% visiting the Eastern Shore

The Ivany Commission set a goal to double our tourism revenue by 2024. Significant progress has been made towards this goal, in part thanks to the Nova Scotia-Maine ferry. 2017 tourism revenue stood at $2.7 Billion, up 36% from 2010.

Why is the ferry moving from Portland to Bar Harbour?

Previous Nova Scotia-Maine ferries have used both Portland to Bar Harbour as ports. The previous CAT ferry (pre-2009) docked in Bar Harbour.

There were challenges with docking in Portland which caused instability in the ferry service. These included…

  • Portland was not willing to give a multi-year commitment to have the ferry dock there
  • Cruise ships were given priority for berthing over the ferry service, leading to some blackout dates for sailing
  • There were limited parking options
  • Tour bus traffic was discouraged from downtown Portland

Additionally, Portland is further from Yarmouth than Bar Harbour, which increased fuel costs and led to the greater potential for mechanical breakdown due to sailing hours for maintenance on the engines.

With the move to Bar Harbour, these challenges have been eliminated with…

  • A multi-year commitment that provides stability and enables motor coach bookings and predictable ferry booking for potential visitors
  • The Nova Scotia-Maine ferry will be given berthing priority at Bar Harbour which enables us to control the ferry schedules and eliminates blackout dates
  • Plenty of parking options

Having the ferry dock in Bar Harbour also re-establishes the historic route of the ferry which operated from 1956 until it was cancelled by the NDP in 2009.

Additionally, Bar Harbour has Acadia National Park which sees 3.5 million people visit each year, a great market to draw from.

The move from Portland to Bar Harbour will…

  • Reduce fuel costs
  • Make the sailing time shorter for passengers
  • Provide better access to the visitor market (Acadia National Park)
  • Improve scheduling options
  • Create predictable scheduling and marketing opportunities
  • Allow for motor coach bookings


Will the move to Bar Harbour reduce the costs to operate the ferry?

Yes! As the sailing time is shorter, fuel costs will be reduced. It is expected that fuel used will decrease 40%, resulting in a savings of $2.5 million.

Additionally, the leasing of the terminal in Bar Harbour is less than Portland and will save $110,000 annually.

Is Bar Harbour investing anything in the ferry terminal?

The terminal is owned by Bar Harbor which just paid US $3.5 million (approximately $4.66 million Canadian) to acquire the property from the State of Maine. A portion of the property is being leased for the ferry service.

What are the annual passenger numbers for the ferry?

2016 – 35,551

2017 – 41,623

2018 – 50,185

What’s all this political rhetoric about a lawsuit over the ferry?

Conservative Leader Tim Houston wants the proprietary information of a private company (Bay Ferries) to be released, even though that would put the company and taxpayers at a competitive disadvantage.

Government discloses most information about the ferry service, including the full annual cost and the number of passengers, while respecting a private company’s ability to operate and be competitive.

It’s one thing for Tim Houston to duck taking a position on the Nova Scotia-Maine ferry, but actively trying to damage the service – and, by extension, the economy of Nova Scotia – is going much too far.

This is just another political stunt from Tim Houston.

Is the political rhetoric harming the ferry service?

Yes. Bay Ferries CEO Mark MacDonald recently appeared before a committee of the Nova Scotia Legislature to discuss the importance of the ferry service. He spoke about how the political rhetoric was impacting customers on the US side…

“The problem is that our customers, partners, to some degree investors in the community… can’t ignore those comments. It goes to our customers on the U.S. side and it goes to the people we’re trying to do business with on the U.S. side, whether they be towns, or cities, or federal agencies.” – Mark MacDonald, Bay Ferries CEO

Bay Ferries is attempting to build a sustainable ferry service that motor coach operators and tour companies have confidence in. This will bring more passenger and tourists to Nova Scotia, something that everyone can agree is a good thing. However, the constant and excessively nasty rhetoric of the Conservative Party is undermining this important work and harming the economy of Nova Scotia.

In fact, an investor recently cancelled plans for a development in Yarmouth due to the ferry rhetoric and the lawsuit launched by the Conservatives. That’s a real impact this rhetoric is having, and a loss of jobs for the Yarmouth area.

We need to all work together to grow our economy, and it’s clear with this irresponsible attack, Tim Houston does not care about the rural economy, or the many communities working so hard to grow.

Watch CTV’s coverage below:



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