Recent trends continued for the ferry service provider linking Newfoundland and Labrador to mainland Canada, as the number of passengers traveling with Marine Atlantic declined in 2011-12,
while commercial vehicle traffic increased.
For the year ending March 31, 2012, 365,786 passengers took advantage of 1,908 single crossings, down 4.4 per cent from 2010-11, when 382,522 passengers travelled with Marine Atlantic.
Over a five-year period, the number of people using the ferry service has declined each year, excluding 2009-10. Since 2007-08, passenger activity has declined by 12.2 per cent — Marine Atlantic served almost 417,000 passengers that year.
While passenger traffic may be down, commercial usage has been increasing for years.
For the fourth straight year, the number of commercial vehicles transported by Marine Atlantic increased, this time by 2.6 per cent over the previous year to 103,253. Since 2007-08, commercial vehicle traffic has increased by 14.7 per cent.
Speaking at the federal Crown corporation’s annual public meeting held Wednesday in St. John’s, vice-president of customer experience Donald Barnes said the decline in passenger traffic is consistent with regional travel trends.
“If you look back at the summer of 2011, which is what we’re talking about ... drive traffic was down all throughout Atlantic Canada,” said Barnes, noting the vast majority of Marine Atlantic’s passenger traffic comes during the summer months.
Given the strength of the Canadian dollar, Barnes said more travellers from Central and Eastern Canada were heading south of the border during the summer instead of coming to Atlantic Canada. At the same time, he said, fewer people from the United States were travelling north of the border.
Rob Crosbie, Marine Atlantic’s board chairman, said those trends appear to be “somewhat similar” in comparison to what took place during the most recent summer.
As for commercial traffic, Crosbie said activity with projects such as the Long Harbour nickel-processing facility are driving vehicular activity.
“Whether or not that continues past Long Harbour with Hebron coming on ... I expect there
still might be a lot of materials moved in for those projects,” said Crosbie.
One challenge Marine Atlantic continues to face is the increasing cost of fuel. According to vice-president of finance Shawn Leamon, the price paid for a litre of fuel increased by 23 per cent in 2011-12 in comparison to the previous year. The Crown corporation spent $33 million on fuel last year.
Marine Atlantic’s fuel consumption has benefited from the introduction of more fuel efficient vessels like the MV Blue Puttees and the MV Highlander.
Those two vessels combined to help reduce fuel consumption during the year by 8.5 million litres. Improved load and trip management were also contributing factors, according to Leamon.
The corporation spent $288.5 million in 2011-12 and generated $100.5 million in revenue through tariffs and other resources. It received $178.8 million via government subsidy.
Ferry rates were increased in 2012, and a $3.50 security fee was also introduced to help recoup costs associated with the federal government’s new Domestic Ferries Security Regulations. Marine Atlantic president and CEO Paul Griffin said no final decision has been made on its 2013 rate structure.