PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – The company that runs the Scotia Prince ferry says the lack of a new terminal in Portland and rent it pays in Nova Scotia may make this season the ferry’s last.

“Last year was very bad. This year is worse,” said Mark Hudson, senior vice president of Scotia Prince Cruises. “We obviously have to evaluate if we are going to go again next year. Have we made a decision? No, we haven’t.”

Ridership is down at least 19 percent from this time last year, Hudson said, and has fallen for the past three years.

Delays in the construction of a new terminal in Portland, once slated for 2002, has discouraged repeat passengers on the Scotia Prince.

$10 million spent on improving and marketing the ship hasn’t helped business because customers board through the aging International Marine Terminal in the industrial end of the city’s waterfront.

“It’s not because the ship is worse. The ship is better,” he said. “We think the only thing it could be, is that it’s just not a nice gateway.”

Hudson also cited the $450,000 annual rent his company pays to Bay Ferries Ltd., which operates a government-owned terminal in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Bay Ferries carries passengers aboard the high-speed Cat between Bar Harbor and Nova Scotia.

Bay Ferries has expressed interest in running the Cat ferry between Portland and Yarmouth, and awaits a decision from the city on whether it will honor a 30-year-old commitment making the Scotia Prince Portland’s only ferry to Yarmouth.

“If Scotia Prince Cruises decides not to operate, as has been threatened, we will deliver whatever capacity is required to serve the market,” Bay Ferries president Mark MacDonald said in a written statement.

Portland officials said they knew traffic has fallen off, but were surprised by Hudson’s statements about next year’s service.

“We’re still confident that when Ocean Gateway is completed, we will have a primary tenant operating there,” said Assistant City Manager Larry Mead.

“We hope it’s the Scotia Prince. We’ve had a good relationship with them. If it’s not, then we would more than welcome Bay Ferries.”

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