OCEAN CITY — In an effort to continue the momentum from last year’s increased municipal bus system deployment schedule, the resort has surpassed a goal for qualified drivers for this season.
A few years ago, the public’s confidence in the resort’s bus system was shaken somewhat by unreliable time schedules and long waits at stops, largely due to a declining number of qualified drivers available. Last year, the Public Works Department’s Transportation Division made a concerted effort to hire and train more drivers and improve the level of service and the proof was in the pudding with soaring ridership numbers during the 2015 season.
Hoping to keep that momentum going, the Transportation Division stepped up bus driver recruitment again this offseason and has already exceeded the numbers from last season.
“The good news is we have met our goal and we have the licensed drivers in training classes right now,” Acting Superintendent of Transportation Wayne Pryor said. “We’re in great shape to meet our deployment levels from last year. We should be good to go with the drivers we have.”
From a five-year low of just 120 drivers in 2014, the number has steadily increased to meet the demands of the stepped-up deployment schedule. For example, there were 138 drivers in 2012, 137 in 2013 and 120 in 2014. However, the number of hired and trained bus drivers spiked up to 150 in 2015 and 160 qualified drivers have been hired for the 2016 season.
“We want our deployment levels to mirror 2015, which was highly successful,” said Pryor. “With the number of drivers we have hired now, we feel confident we can continue that level of deployment.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca said with the number of drivers already hired, along with the addition of two new articulating buses, maybe the deployment can be increased and the level of service improved this year.
“I think it should be equal to or greater than 2015,” he said. “Last year was a magnificent year for the transit system.”
Pryor said the broad ridership numbers can be examined closer to explore ways to improve deployment schedules and quality of service.
“Numbers are just numbers and we try to boil them down even further by shift,” he said. “We are taking a look at the ridership by bus and by shift. Last summer, the idea was to restore the public’s confidence in the bus system and it worked. We’re now hoping to build on that momentum.”
Figuring out how and where to expand bus deployment has its challenges. For example, it’s all hands on deck during the peak season in June, July and August, but figuring out how to deploy buses and drivers during shoulder season and for special events can be tricky.
“I’m not concerned about June, July and August,” he said. “We can do 50,000 riders for the entire month of April, but carry 40,000 on a single day in July. We were heavily deployed last weekend for Springfest. You can’t count on the weather, but you have to be prepared.”
Similarly, the recruitment process for the Boardwalk tram is moving along a similar track. Pryor said the seasonal employment level for the tram currently stands at 58, of which 14 are new to the operation. The department is currently in the process of filling the last two spots on the 2016 roster.
In related news, Springfest weekend was the official launch for riders being able to use credit cards for the Boardwalk tram. Pryor said it was highly successful with 60 credit card transactions on the trams over the four-day Springfest weekend despite the weather. He also said a different type of paper is being explored because the current paper did not hold up well in the rain.