Public Works Minister Kim Masland is changing course on information released about the ferry service between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Bar Harbor, Maine.
On Thursday, Masland told reporters that it wouldn’t be until the end of the season in October that passenger numbers for the service would be made public.
But in a statement Friday afternoon, Masland said his department would release passenger counts to date and regular updates would continue.
Figures show the ferry has carried 2,888 passengers since the service launched four days a week on May 19 (1,661 arrivals at Yarmouth and 1,227 departures). There were also 1,323 vehicles (762 arriving in Yarmouth; 561 leaving) in what is considered a shoulder season.
Last week, service provider Bay Ferries announced that it had sold around 15,100 tickets for the season so far.
Company declined to provide numbers: Masland
In Friday’s statement, Masland said she decided to provide the numbers to the public after her department asked Bay Ferries to publish daily passenger counts on its website – and the company refused.
“Our government believes that Bay Ferries owes it to Nova Scotians to be completely transparent about how the service operates,” Masland’s statement read. “If Bay Ferries won’t be fully transparent, we certainly will be.”
Bay Ferries officials, however, say transparency is not an issue for them.
Bay Ferries offers a different account
The company said in a press release issued shortly after Masland’s statement on Friday that the government’s first request for passenger data was received at 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Bay Ferries said it provided this information “several minutes later”.
The company said it was concerned about the daily news release because the season started earlier than usual and, at a time when it was trying to generate interest, “didn’t want the data from the start of the season are misinterpreted as indicative of the overall outlook, given the amount of investment in the service.
Despite its concerns, the company says it has told government officials that “if short-term reporting of actual passenger and vehicle traffic is a priority, we will work with your department to develop a reporting structure that meets this need.” reasonably”.
Masland told CBC News that his department is determining how it will continue to share traffic information with the public.
An ongoing saga
The apparent dispute over the publication of passenger numbers is another chapter in the ongoing controversy over transparency with Bay Ferries and its contract with the provincial government. When in opposition, the Conservatives pushed aggressively for transparency around the service, making it a major issue.
Premier Tim Houston, then Leader of the Opposition, successfully sued the government for access to the annual management fees paid to Bay Ferries. The company said that in 2021 it received around $1.17 million per year to operate the high-speed ferry.
When the former Liberal government did not publish ridership numbers, the Conservatives also made a problem out of it. A well-known local Conservative volunteer in Yarmouth could be seen regularly counting cars as they got off the ferry and these numbers would later end up on Houston’s Twitter account.
In government, however, Masland and Houston adopted a less combative tone on the ferry. They said over and over again that a contract was in place, that they would stick to it, and that they hoped the service would be as efficient as possible.
Hope for a tourism boost
After a three-year hiatus, there are high hopes for what the service could mean for the tourist season in Southwest Nova Scotia and the rest of the province. Service has not operated for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the year prior because facilities at the new Bar Harbor port of call were not ready.
The service begins daily crossings on June 23. Peak season, considered July and August, is when the majority of bookings historically occur. Sailings are reduced to six days a week in September and the season ends in early October.