OCEAN CITY – During a Transportation Department budget hearing this week, several changes were discussed within the department, starting with eliminating the $1-per-boarding fare on Ocean City’s buses and returning to a ride-all-day fare.
In February 2011, the bus fare was increased from $2 ride-all-day to $3 ride-all-day, or $1 per boarding. The Fiscal Year 2015 budget calls for eliminating the $1 per-boarding option, resulting in additional projected bus revenue of about $492,814 over the FY14 projected revenue, and reducing the required General Fund contribution from about $1.9 million to $1.37 million.
A public hearing will be held on April 15 before the Mayor and City Council to receive public input. If approved, the $1 per-boarding fare will be eliminated altogether, leaving only one option for Ocean City’s bus fare — a $3 ride-all-day pass starting the morning of Friday, May 23.
“There are multiple benefits in doing so, beyond just revenue. Yes, you will get a revenue enhancement but the transportation system as a whole is supposed to be a tool for the majority and by having an all-day fare that is exactly what it will be in lieu of having a destination oriented system, or simply having someone go to one point and that’s it,” Public Works Director Hal Adkins said.
Mayor Rick Meehan supported the change in the bus fare model, stating he has always been a proponent for the ride-all-day system.
“It changes the transportation from just being destination oriented to being a service they [riders] will use time and time again,” the mayor said. “It is human nature. Once you buy the ticket and you have it … you will ride it and it will help reduce traffic on the highways and keep people riding the bus, and I think that is a good thing. That was the original intention of the $3 ride-all-day. It worked then and it will continue to work.”
Keeping on the topic of revenue, Adkins explained the town’s advertising firm for the Boardwalk trams, Direct Media, has lost its manufacturer for the advertising option of “tram roof mounted triangular back clip devices” and have not found a replacement as of this time.
“For the time being, any potential revenue collected from the trams relative advertising is not a reality,” Adkins said.
Council Secretary Mary Knight asked Adkins if the option of advertisers placing ads on the roofs of the trams by “cling-ons”.
“It is part of the contract that Direct Media has. We did an amendment to it to allow them to sell that for you, but unfortunately there has not been a lot of excitement out there for people to purchase them. I know we have a few of them out there but the revenue generation is minimal,” Adkins said.
Knight then questioned how Direct Media markets advertising opportunities on Ocean City’s Boardwalk trams and asked for a Direct Media representative to come before the council to give an update.
Adkins furthered the Transportation Department has recently come across a minimal decrease in revenue as Greyhound bus services is “99.9 percent sure” they will not be renewing its five-year contract with Ocean City to use the Park and Ride.
“It was not a money making venture for the Town of Ocean City. We were simply trying to assist them in their efforts to relocate off of 2nd Street and Philadelphia Ave. So at that time it was nearly a wash between our expenditures to be their ticketing agency versus the revenue provided in the contract. Over the five years, yes, our revenue inched up a little, so if in fact they don’t renew the contract it appears there will be a $7,000 shortfall from that contract,” Adkins said.
The final item Adkins touched on was a potential revenue enhancement by starting to charge for Play It Safe bus ride wristbands starting in 2015. Play It Safe is a program organized by the Ocean City Drug Alcohol Abuse Prevention Committee that provides a wide variety of activities for high school graduates visiting Ocean City during June. The program handed out 7,194 wristbands last year, as done in years prior to allow participants to ride the bus for free.
At one time, there was a proposal in place to start charging Play It Safe participants $5 for the wristbands, Meehan said, but it never came to fruition.
“Play It Safe is a fabulous program and I know it has 100 percent support of the Mayor and City Council,” the mayor said. “When you think about it in today’s world of 2014, $5 is the cost of one large soda. It is not a significant cost, especially for the young adults that come down here, and if you look at the money that could be raised from that, about $25,000 to $30,000, that would help offset the extra cost we have assigning police officers to ride the bus during that time period to help keep order on the buses and protect the bus drivers and other people on the bus that are subjected to the party atmosphere that can be created. We want everybody to have a good time but we also want everybody to feel safe.”
The Mayor and Council were expected to continue that discussion at Thursday’s budget wrap up session.