April 13, 2006

High-Speed Ferry Service Between Portland, Maine and Canada Will Start in May

By Tux Turkel, Portland Press Herald, Maine

Apr. 12--The start of high-speed ferry service between Portland and Nova Scotia next month will make it possible for Boston-area residents to weekend in the Maritimes without ever getting into their cars.

Transportation officials described that possibility Tuesday when they announced that users of The Cat will be able to book travel packages that allow them to connect with buses and trains.

The Cat is scheduled to begin sailing between Portland and Yarmouth on May 26. The ferry will make the 5-hour trip on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

It will run between Nova Scotia and Bar Harbor the other days. Service will end for the year on Oct. 16.

The one-way fare for adults between Portland and Yarmouth is $79 in the off-season and $89 in summer.

Transportation officials discussed travel choices in advance of the annual meeting of Trainriders, a citizen group that worked to restore rail service between Boston and Portland.

The Cat is set up to carry 220 vehicles and 775 people. The Bar Harbor-Yarmouth route during the week attracts many tourists who leave their cars behind to enjoy a day cruise between the two resorts.

Portland and Yarmouth are too far apart to support day cruises, but the ferry's owner is still hoping to attract passengers who won't need their cars.

"We're trying to build a mutually beneficial relationship with the Downeaster," said Mark MacDonald, president of Bay Ferries Ltd., referring to the train between Boston and Portland. "We've got a ship with a great capacity and, just like the airlines, we're trying to increase load factor."

The company also is working with Concord Trailways, MacDonald said, for bus travelers between Boston and Portland.

Travelers from Boston were able, in previous years, to take the bus or train to Portland and catch a ride with a taxi or the Portland Explorer shuttle bus to the ferry terminal. The difference this year is that they can book their entire trip as a package through The Cat, according to Patricia Davis, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.

The arrangement, Davis suggested, will allow a visitor from Nova Scotia to go to a baseball game in Boston, or a Massachusetts resident to explore Yarmouth, without a car. The current train schedule leaves time for making the ferry connections, she said.

"We see it as a way to increase traffic in both directions," she said.

On Fridays, Bay Ferries is expanding the connection by offering direct bus service from Yarmouth and Halifax, the province's largest city. The bus will meet The Cat when it docks, around 8:30 p.m., for the three-hour journey to Halifax.

Advanced bookings for The Cat through Portland are off to a strong start, MacDonald said, although it's early in the season. The company plans to start television ads in Boston, New York and southern Maine in the next few weeks.

Bay Ferries ultimately hopes to run daily service from both Portland and Bar Harbor, MacDonald said, which would require a second ship. The response to this year's Portland service will help determine whether that investment makes sense, he said.


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