Council Backs Boardwalk Tram Service Cuts

OCEAN CITY – Pedestrians will only have to look over their shoulder for the lurching Boardwalk tram during the summer months after Tuesday’s City Council work session.

The Boardwalk tram is breaking down more often and costing the town more money than ever, so when the service went under Public Works Director Hal Adkins’ “cost cutting” microscope, he found a change was needed.

“Currently, we start the service Good Friday and operate every weekend thereafter including Fridays. On these weekends, the trams lose $500 per day,” Adkins said. “In addition, we feel if we cut the tram service in the shoulder months, we would see a savings in excess of $33,000.”

The City Council voted unanimously to approve Adkins’ recommendation to trim the tram schedule to the summer season only, as the tram will now begin Springfest weekend, May 7-10, then resume the Saturday before Memorial Day, (May 16), and commence with its daily “full blown service” until Sunfest in September.

The decision to cut “shoulder months” tram service also had to do with not just the cost of the service, but also the failing machinery on the trams.

Transportation Superintendent George Thornes spoke about the 6-year-old trams and how the coastal atmosphere is starting to take its toll on the machines.

“We are having a number of electrical problems with the trams based on the harsh conditions, as well as trams overheating,” he said. “I wouldn’t see a downturn in labor on these based on the age of these trams.”

The trams were awarded to the lowest bidder six years ago and financed over five, so although they are paid off per say, they may not last the 12 years they were projected to, prompting Council President Joe Metrecic to say “sometimes the lowest price isn’t always the best one.”

The price of the tram also came under scrutiny from Adkins. Currently, it costs $3 per ride. The price of the tram has only gone up 50 cents in the past six years and there is a savings, albeit a small one, for riders if they purchase a “punch card” that gives them 10 rides at $20. The punch cards bring in about $300,000 of the $1 million in revenue budget for the tram itself. As a result, the council approved Adkins’ recommendation to scale back the punch card deal from 10 rides to 8 rides at the same $20 fee.

What council did not approve, however, was Adkins proposal to do away with the senior citizen passes that enable them to ride the tram for free.

Adkins told council that $122,000 worth of free rides were used in 2008 by 2,200 senior residents, down slightly from the $133,000 in free rides given in 2007. He said that, “almost 80 percent of those were given to senior citizens.” Currently, children under 42 inches in height, seniors and town employees showing identification can ride the tram for free.

“I realize that this segment of the tram issue is very sensitive, but I feel I have to say it,” Adkins said. “If we were to abolish that policy and that right, that historically may have never been intended, will it result in $122,000 in money back, probably not. But does it have the ability to substantially modify the deployment needs of the tram division and result in cost avoidance in man-hours, fuel costs and unemployment? There is no doubt it would.”

Despite a motion to support Adkins’ proposed cuts for free senior rides from Councilwoman Mary Knight, who thought that seniors would be willing to “do their part to help save town costs,” the motion received no support and died there.

The council also squashed Adkins’ proposal to use the drop down DVD machines on the trams and create revenue by selling advertising to be seen by riders of the trams, but encouraged him to return with concrete numbers on how much advertising revenue could be created.