City Mulling Idea Of Double Decker Busses In Future

OCEAN CITY – Can you picture double decker buses in Ocean City? The Transportation Commission is investigating the idea to further meet the goal of increasing ridership for Ocean City’s transportation system.

Last month the Transportation Commission reviewed the Town of Ocean City’s bus fleet and alternative additions that will meet the goal of increasing capacity and lessening drivers due to the issue of filling bus driver positions.

At that time, Public Works Director Hal Adkins explained in the past the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) would loan the Town of Ocean City six to 10 articulating (known commonly as artics) buses to supplement the town’s fleet in the busy summer months. However, the program ended at the end of the 2010 season after the MTA re-evaluated routes and decided it needed the artics in the city year-round.

In Fiscal Year 2014 (FY 14), the Town of Ocean City was awarded a grant in the amount of $1,362,000 to purchase three, 40-foot diesel buses, and the same was awarded in FY 15 totaling $2,724,000 with a local match of 10 percent.

The estimated cost for a 40-foot diesel bus is $425,000 that seats 35 with 18 standees. A 60-foot diesel artic bus is about $700,000 that seats 63 with 31 standees. The question arose if the left over funds from FY 14 can turn over to FY 15 to purchase artic buses instead, as well as if the Town could lease the artic buses for the summer months.

On Tuesday Thornes returned to the commission stating the FY 14 funds can be rolled over to FY 15 to purchase two 60-foot artic buses but Thornes explained a five-year proposal should be formed for the MTA to plan into the future. Also, since there are only two artic bus manufacturers left in the country the option to lease artic buses is not in the picture.

“I am a big supporter of the artics based on the fact that having those in our fleet will accomplish our goal of moving passengers timely, especially if we have a limited number of bus drivers,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “When artics pull up to a bus stop it is like a vacuum. They just load the entire stop. It is not just about our fleet but it is about our ridership and being able to better accommodating the ridership. You are almost doubling the ridership while not doubling the cost.”

According to Thornes, currently no buses have been ordered; including the three approved 40-foot buses funded by the FY 14 grant, and as the RFP is being prepared the best option would be to include the three 40-foot buses as well as the two 60-foot artic buses funded by the FY 15 grant in one sum lump purchase. However, he urged the officials to work on five-year purchase plan for the MTA.

“The concept of having more capacity and fewer drivers are the way we have to go. There is another alternative to the artic, I don’t know if it works for us or not, but there is a lot of modern double decker buses out there now where we wouldn’t have problem with the number of drivers, as well as the length of the vehicle and turns,” Councilman Dennis Dare suggested. “They are less expensive but the concern is the people on the second deck are not being monitored by the driver but then again they can’t monitor the back of the artic bus either.”

According to Dare, double decker buses are handicap accessible, and the United States set a standard on vehicle height at 14 feet, so bridges and traffic lights etc. are built higher than 14 feet.

The commission directed Thornes to pursue the artic buses in the RFP but also research double decker buses in terms of the five-year plan to be furthered discussed at next month’s commission meeting.

“The double decker buses are really intriguing. I have never been on a double decker bus so it might be appealing to some people, as an attraction and become part of the experience,” Council Secretary Mary Knight said.

As far as filling bus driver positions for the upcoming summer season, Thornes explained currently there are 62 buses in Ocean City’s fleet and a goal of 155 drivers has been set. There were 133 bus drivers last summer as the City struggled to keep the fleet moving.

So far the Town currently has 59 drivers, 105 returning drivers, 68 new drivers with 27 applications on hold and six of that didn’t meet requirements, totaling 199 drivers.

The department is shooting for a large number because availability is the issue, and scheduling and absenteeism becomes a conflict. Thornes states, recruitment efforts are continuing with several job fairs scheduled in upcoming weeks.

With the current challenge of filling bus-driving positions, the department has explored the idea of pursuing other recruitment opportunities such as the various job fairs around the resort area. However, as younger crowds typically attend the events, the town’s age of 21 requirement for bus drivers eliminates a potential pool of college students seeking summer jobs who might seek a position with the city.