SYDNEY — Marine Atlantic has reduced the number of scheduled summer crossings from North Sydney to Newfoundland in response to a significant decline in commercial bookings.
That means there will be two less crossings out of Port aux Basques and North Sydney each week for the Blue Puttees and the Highlanders vessels, beginning June 1.
Outside of dedicated restricted crossings each week, the MV Leif Ericson will remain in standby mode and will be put into use only when commercial traffic volumes are high.
"We released our initial schedule back in February based on traffic projections we were anticipating for the coming months," said Darrell Mercer, spokesperson for Marine Atlantic. "Unfortunately those traffic projections were higher than we are experiencing and as a result we redeveloped the summer schedule to better match capacity and demand."
Travel plans for customers already booked on a Port aux Basques to North Sydney crossing have been changed to morning and evening crossings. And Mercer said customers will be accommodated within a six-hour period.
"The biggest impact is going to be the MV Leif Ericson," he said. "That vessel is usually in the schedule for most of the summer and sails for most of the week."
There have also been fewer bookings for passenger traffic, which is allowing for more commercial capacity, he said. Marine Atlantic is now trying to match the vessel capacity with current traffic demand.
"It's certainly concerning because we didn't anticipate seeing such a dramatic change in traffic patterns this year. Instead of sailing vessels that would be less than half full, we are certainly trying to maximize the deck space that is available."
Marine Atlantic suspects a number of reasons for the decline in commercial traffic, including fewer housing starts in Newfoundland, which means less materials and supplies being shipped.
For other users, higher fuel prices may be making a driving vacation more expensive, while people may prefer to fly rather than sail, to cut down on travel time.
Mercer said recent Marine Atlantic rate increases might also have had an effect. As a result, "dynamic pricing scenarios" and things like time of year discounts may be considered.
From an employee perspective, seasonal employees could feel the most impact, depending on how often the Leif Ericson is on the sailing schedule.
Mercer said Marine Atlantic has communicated the reasons for the schedule change to industry and tourism partners.
The new summer schedule will stretch into September. No decision on any changes to the fall schedule have been made, but traffic patterns for that time of year are being monitored.