OCEAN CITY – As Ocean City’s new Year’s Eve crowds sang along to Auld Lang Syne bringing in 2009, the free bus service that the town provided yet again to ensure public safety is something that should be “ne’er forgot.”
In a year when the City is tightening its proverbial belt across the board, making huge cuts everywhere from City Hall to the outskirts of the city limits, the free bus ran yet again on New Year’s, as it has every year since the mid-1990’s.
Brian Connor, assistant superintendent of the transportation division in Ocean City, said it costs almost $10,000 to provide the free of 24-hour service on New Year’s Eve, and despite entertaining one of the largest numbers of riders per given night throughout the year, the service receives little feedback.
“I would assume that it’s greatly appreciated, but we honestly don’t get a lot of response one way or another, said Connor. “We know that people will be out celebrating, and this service gives them an outlet to perhaps overindulge a bit and still get home safely without endangering themselves or others.”
Though getting a cab on New Year’s Eve might be time consuming and costly, riding the bus on New Year’s has been free for over a decade as the City sends out a fleet of 18 buses, which creates a pretty consistent 15-minute headway (pick-up time at any given point in town), according to Connor. Last year, over 5,300 people made their way on and off the buses on New Year’s, and Connor predicted that those numbers from Wednesday night would either mirror or eclipse those numbers.
“Every year, the numbers hover right around 5,000 and we expect this year to be no different once the numbers are tabulated,” he said.
Labor and operational costs make up the estimated $10,000 price tag that the town absorbs for one night of free bus service, which some could equate to a late present being placed under their Christmas trees.
“I guess that it could be looked at like a belated Christmas gift for the townspeople of Ocean City, but we just want to provide a way for people to enjoy themselves without putting anyone at risk,” he said.
What some people may not notice amongst the celebrating is the undercover police presence that sits on the buses.
“We try not to make a big deal of it, but we know that there may be instances where people may get unruly amongst the celebration, and our bus drivers aren’t there to police the riders, so we have undercover cops that patrol the buses throughout the evening,” he said. “Historically, we have had very few problems on NYE. Everyone is usually high spirited and in a good mood.”