Traffic up in 2013 for Princess of Acadia, from Digby to Saint John

DIGBY — People love to travel on ferries.

Events from last year are proof, say Bay Ferries Ltd. executives who painted a positive picture of travel aboard the Princess of Acadia, which travels between Digby and Saint John, N.B.

In 2013, more than 107,000 people telephoned the company’s call centre and 27,000 made reservations, said Danny Bartlett, the firm’s vice-president of finance and administration.

“U.S. travellers represent about 30 per cent (of users) on this service,” he told a Digby Board of Trade audience Thursday.

Ontario and Quebec are also large markets.

“Reduced driving is the primary motivation for using the Princess of Acadia. We have a lot of repeat customers on this service.”

Traffic was up in 2013 over 2012, showing a modest increase in passenger vehicles and a bigger increase in trucks. Tractors-trailers were up by about 10 per cent and drop-trailers, trailers being shuttled across the Bay of Fundy without a truck attached, were up 22 per cent.

“We made an attempt to break down what the actual industries are that we’re carrying on this service,” said Bartlett.

The work showed that fish, logs and general cargo continue to be the main items carried, with 72 per cent of trucks leaving Digby carrying some type of seafood, he said. Leaving Saint John, 25 per cent of the commercial traffic is mink feed.

“We have an acute awareness of the role that we play in providing cost-effective means of Nova Scotia products getting to market,” Don Cormier, vice-president operations and safety management, said.

In 2010, the Princess of Acadia picked up a few more buses after the fast ferry, the Cat, stopped operating to Yarmouth and while motor coach tours continue to use the ferry, bus traffic in general dropped off a bit after that, Bartlett said.

In 2013, the Princess of Acadia carried 126 tour buses.

“The … (new) Yarmouth ferry is something we’re going to have to watch. I don’t think it’s going to impact us this year,” Bartlett said referring to bus tour traffic.

That, he said, is because tour operators generally plan two years in advance.

Live local music on board the Princess of Acadia last summer will be continued in 2014.

“We’re excited that program’s … expanding and I believe that we’re looking at music every day of the week … this summer,” Bartlett said.

Rates for the Digby ferry are increasing by about two per cent across the board, he said.

However, a fuel surcharge applied nearly a decade ago — currently a flat rate of $20 per car and $50 per truck — will remain unchanged even though the cost of fuel has increased and is expected to continue to increase, said Cormier.

People also want to eat healthier on their ferries, he said. As a result, the company hired executive chef Guy LeClair, from Prince Edward Island, to oversee meals because food and beverage service enhancements will be a priority this year.

“One of the challenges is its kind of a cafeteria setting were dealing with on board of the ship,” Bartlett said.

A new ferry for Digby with perhaps a different style of restaurant is coming but company executives could say very little about when.

Last year, Ottawa announced it would spend upwards of $60 million to replace the Princess of Acadia, now in service for 43 years.

Transport Canada is in charge of procuring a replacement vessel and Bay Ferries executives offer input, said Cormier.

It was not immediately known when a new ship would arrive.

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