OCEAN CITY — Despite extending hours for bicycles to be permitted on the Boardwalk this summer until 11 a.m., the City Council had to deal with yet another conflict concerning bikes and the Boardwalk tram, albeit a small one.
City Manager Dennis Dare noticed a potential conflict when the council recently passed an amendment to an ordinance allowing bicycles to operate on the Boardwalk up until 11 a.m. during the summer months and brought that concern before the Mayor and City Council at Tuesday’s work session.
“Normally, we run the tram from the Friday of Memorial Day until the Monday of Labor Day, but the ordinance that you recently passed, would present a bit of a conflict on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday prior to Labor Day weekend, as the bikes would have no restrictions during those days as written in the ordinance,” said Dare. “We basically need to address this by deciding between bikes or trams on those days.”
As per the ordinance, bikes are allowed on the Boardwalk from June 1 to Aug. 31 until 11 a.m., but have no restrictions Sept. 1-May 31, essentially causing concern for the increased traffic and potential public safety risks by having the tram and the bikes running simultaneously in the days leading up to Labor Day.
The council voted to start the “no restrictions” on bicycles until Labor Day Monday (Sept. 6), which will simply require that bikes must leave the Boardwalk by 11 a.m.
Some on the council thought. however, that the tram and bicycles running simultaneously for a few days would cause little impact.
“Because we did allow an extra hour last year, the bicycles and the merchants all did well,” said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, “but during Sunfest, which is sometimes just as busy as Labor Day, everything went fine despite the tram running, by allowing bicycles to run.”
Pillas continued to push for bikes on the Boardwalk and motioned to extend the hours allowed during the summer season until noon and continue the no restrictions in the off-season, but council thought that the jump was much too large for this year.
“I don’t think that it’s the right thing to do to push it past 11 a.m.,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic, “and to be honest, there is still a segment of visitors who use that tram and not starting that tram until noon would be a disservice to those people as well.”
Mayor Rick Meehan, who is an avid Boardwalk bike rider and proponent of the 11 a.m. bike extension, was so vehemently against the extension of hours until noon that he publicly threatened to veto the ordinance if it was passed.
In the days that followed, however, Meehan said that he wasn’t trying to flex his political powers in any way.
“I do have reservations about moving it until noon, and I simply informed the council that I would veto it, not so much as a threat, but more so to let them know where I stood to save everyone from going through all the pain to pass another extension,” said Meehan. “I think we made the right decision for this year on Tuesday, and I’m more than willing to discuss the bicycle hours on the Boardwalk in the future.”
The Boardwalk tram has been debated on many occasions and just like any other service in Ocean City, has its fair share of proponents and opponents as it has been pointed at as one of the reasons that the Boardwalk decking is seeing a shorter lifespan than it should, and has not exactly been a huge revenue generator for the town either.
Public Works Director Hal Adkins told council on Tuesday that from a moneymaking standpoint, “the tram loses money up until 4 p.m. each day”, due to payroll and operational costs.
Dare told The Dispatch that seasonal drivers are paid roughly $11 an hour to drive the tram, but it ends up costing the city nearly $17 an hour in payroll costs to cover the unemployment insurance during the off-season for the drivers.
Mitrecic said that perhaps the time has come to take a closer look at how the tram operates in 2010.
“People have come to expect a level of service from the Boardwalk Tram and it is a valuable one for a lot of people when they come to Ocean City, but we’ve shrunk the tram’s level of service a bit in the past few years, and maybe it’s time we look at establishing a day-time pass to increase ridership,” Mitrecic said.
Meehan said that he has presented the idea to Adkins about the merits of instilling a day time pass from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. for the tram, but noted that even if that could work, he thought the issue concerning the seasonal drivers and unemployment might need to be addressed first.
“Having seasonal employees able to collect unemployment may be an issue that needs to be looked at first, but maybe a daytime pass would increase the number of riders from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and it would increase the access to the tram itself,” said Meehan. “We just have to make sure we don’t offer a service we can’t fulfill.”
In the end, the small conflict of time and transportation on the Boardwalk seemed to get a quick fix as the tram will continue to run on schedule beginning at 11 a.m., while the bicycle operators will get the additional hour.