Berlin May Pitch In Funds For Free Trolley Program

BERLIN — A free trolley program in West Ocean City could be more likely now that Berlin is considering becoming a partner.

First proposed to the Worcester County Commissioners last month, the West Ocean City trolley program is eyeing an early summer start and seeking private and government partners. The brainchild of the Tri-County Council of the Lower Eastern Shore, the trolleys have the potential to boost visitors in Berlin, according to Michael Day, director of economic and community development.

The current plan is to operate a pair of re-fitted buses, designed to look like classic trolleys, and run a loop around West Ocean City, Ocean Pines and Berlin. Those trolleys would make six runs each per day between 10 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day. Routes would begin and end at the West Ocean City Park and Ride with potential stops at the West Ocean City Harbor, the casino at Ocean Downs, an Ocean Pines swimming pool, downtown Berlin, Assateague State Park, Frontier Town, Castaways RV Resort and the Francis Scott Key Motel.

“They’re going to be just making this loop. It’s going to be about an hour and a half,” Day told the Town Council. “Their goal is to make it a free trolley.”

Already a few partners have come forward with contributions for the initiative. Ocean Downs Racetrack and Casino will be providing $20,000 in funding, which constitutes a “Gold” partnership and will include advertising and other opportunities. Worcester County is currently considering a $10,000, or “Silver”, partnership, while Day is proposing a more modest $5,000 “Bronze” partnership.

The $5,000 would be added to Day’s usual advertising budget and applied to the trolley program, which he pointed out will allow the town to advertise locally while hopefully bringing visitors into town.

Day added that locals will be able to take advantage of the trolleys as well to get to work or just travel around the county.

The biggest question now for the program is whether the trolleys will be free. While that is the end goal, Day said that it’s an expensive operation for the Tri-County Council to run for the summer.

“It’s $140,000 to run both trolleys. They aren’t there yet but they want to get it up and running by Memorial Day,” he told the council. “So they might start with one and see what they can do.”

The state is expected to lend a hand, but Day took any state funding with a grain of salt.

“The state is going to put a little in. They would like to get a lot more from the state, but the state wants to know numbers,” he said. “They want to know how many people are going to ride it, what the costs are and all of that stuff.”

Because the trolleys won’t generate any data until after their first summer, the state will not have the numbers it seeks until after the fact.

Still, the council was enthusiastic about the trolley program bringing more visitors and locals to Berlin.

As for getting those visitors into the county in the first place, Day’s second proposal would shift some of his advertising funds toward Dorchester County, which recently developed a Harriet Tubman memorial with the expectation for a national park.

“With Harriet Tubman, they now have the monument; they’re going to hopefully get the national park pretty soon,” said Day. “Dorchester County is ready to explode.”

People who will be heading to Dorchester for the park and Tubman monument will generally be history buffs who would likely also be interested in Berlin with its Victorian and early 20th century buildings and places, added Day.

Mayor Gee Williams felt likewise and asserted that history buffs and heritage tourism are demographics that need to be further invested in.

“There is also a lot of heritage tourism that we’ve never even developed and it’s sitting right in our lap. And it attracts people of all backgrounds,” said the mayor. “People who love history love all kinds of history. And it’s because this has not been brought to the forefront ever before there’s a built-up demand for people who love to travel to destinations that have historical significance, have historic appeal but are also fun and safe to be in.”

That untapped or under-tapped market should be enough for Dorchester and Berlin both, added Day, and the proximity of Cambridge and Berlin, 56 miles, should make sharing history buffs feasible.

“We’re so close and they can only spend so much time in Cambridge,” he said. “We want to draw them down here.”

Worcester County will likely apply some ad dollars to the area as well, according to Day. The plan is to salt the area with some advertising this year and if returns are good to invest more in the future.

“We’ll start promoting a little bit up there this year and see how it goes,” Day said.

An initial investment of about $1,000 into Dorchester is likely, he continued. The $5,000 for the trolley program will be decided when Berlin officially adopts its budget.