OCEAN CITY — Buoyed by the success of last week’s extended season for the Boardwalk tram, the Ocean City Mayor and Council this week approved keeping it running for at least two more weekends.
Earlier this month, town officials approved an extension of the season for the Boardwalk tram, citing a later than average Labor Day along with great weather and solid visitor totals during the month. As a result, the trams, which in recent years have been run from Memorial Day to Labor Day, continued carrying visitors up and down the Boardwalk through last week.
Perhaps symbolic of what has, by many accounts, been an outstanding September in the resort in terms of tourism and near picture-perfect weather for the most part, the Boardwalk tram got an extended lease on life for the 2015 season this week when town officials agreed to continue to run the popular trains from Thursday to Sunday this weekend during Bike Week festivities and again next week from Thursday to Sunday during Sunfest.
During a Transportation Committee meeting on Tuesday, Public Works Director Hal Adkins told committee members adding the additional week for the tram last week proved to be profitable for the city and continued to provide a nice amenity and transportation option for visitors and residents long after the trains are typically retired for the season.
By Tuesday afternoon at the Mayor and Council work session, a decision was made to extend the season through this weekend with the tram operating from Thursday to Sunday from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. each day.
“Even with some inclement weather last week, it proved to work out very well,” said Mayor and Acting City Manager Rick Meehan. “The revenue exceeded the cost of providing the service, and we’re looking for approval to run the trains again this weekend from Thursday to Sunday.”
The ridership numbers for last week tell the story. On the Tuesday after Labor Day, 1,415 riders utilized the three running trams. Last Wednesday, nearly 1.400 rode the Boardwalk again, but on Thursday, with steady rain and thunderstorms, the trams did not run. Last Friday, 1,822 rode the tram, but on Saturday, again with severe thunderstorms, just 561 utilized the service. The week rounded out with solid numbers on Sunday when nearly 1,300 rode the tram, prompting resort officials to keep it running through Bike Week starting yesterday.
On Wednesday afternoon, Adkins said a decision had been made to add even one more weekend, next week’s Sunfest weekend, to the Boardwalk tram schedule for 2015. He reluctantly called the Boardwalk tram extension a “pilot program” and said extending the season hasn’t been done in several years.
“When we decided to consider this, we reflected back on 2008, which was the last time we ran the tram beyond Labor Day,” he said. “Then the recession hit and as a means to reduce costs, the tram season was shortened from Memorial Day to Labor Day. When we looked at the numbers from last week compared to the same week in 2008, we found the three trams that ran per day last week exceeded the six trams that ran per day during the same week in 2008.”
As a result, biker weekend and Sunfest weekend have been added to the tram’s calendar for 2015. The trams will not run on Monday through Wednesday next week, but will start operating again on Thursday next week and continue through Sunday. After that, Adkins said it will almost certainly be shut down for the season.
Adkins told the Mayor and Council on Tuesday adding Bike Week this weekend, with big crowds expected and another solid weekend weather forecast, was an easy decision. He said it could provide a transportation option for Bike Week revelers.
“A lot of the Bike Week events are at the Inlet and we will have the tram available to them until 10 p.m. on each of those days,” he said. “Some of them might park their bikes for the day and ride the tram down to the Inlet events, or ride back to their hotels on the tram after they’ve had a few beverages.”
Adkins called extending the season for the tram a “baby step” and said its success could open the door for an extended season in the future.
“After 2008, when we stopped the tram after Labor Day, we upset a lot of people, including senior citizens or young families with small children, that really loved that amenity,” he said. “I went down to the Boardwalk last week on a couple of early week nights to check it out because my name is on this, and what I found was most people were buying the $6 ticket and not the $3 ticket. They weren’t buying the one-way ticket to get to a single destination, they were riding it as kind of a scenic ride attraction, for lack of a better phrase.”
Adkins said he hoped the extended season for the Boardwalk tram wouldn’t create what would obviously be a good problem.
“My only concern is we don’t become a product of our own success,” he said. “I hope we have the right number of trams and runs to accommodate those who want to use it so we don’t hear complaints about not having enough.”