New Transit Director To Explore Expanded Bus System

OCEAN CITY — With increased growth and development outside the resort’s borders, Ocean City transportation officials are preparing to take a broader look at the municipal public transit system.

During last Tuesday’s Transportation Committee meeting, new Transit Director Mark Rickards told members his top priority thus far was learning about the municipal bus system and exploring opportunities to expand and improve it. Rickards said that includes potential increased cooperation with neighboring transit systems including Shore Transit in Worcester County and across the Lower Shore, and Delaware Area Rapid Transit (DART) operating in nearby Sussex County. Shore Transit does connect with Ocean City’s municipal bus system at the Park-and-Ride in West Ocean City to some degree, but Rickards said there might be opportunities for an increased presence on the other side of the bridge.

“When you see a lot of new motel development in West Ocean City, there are a lot of people now staying over there,” he said. “They are mostly day-trippers and they are flooding your downtown with automobiles. I think there might be an opportunity to coordinate with Shore Transit and see what their plans are for moving a lot of those new visitors around.”

Some lodging establishments in West Ocean City, most notably the Francis Scott Key Motel and Frontier Town, for example, have private bus service for their visitors to and from Ocean City, but Rickards believes with increased development could come some opportunity for an enhanced public system.

“Shore Transit is looking at the Route 50 corridor, but I’m not sure they have the resources,” he said. “It’s really an untapped market and it could be a growth area for our system. You have the new hotels out there, Wal-Mart, the casino, and there is some potential out there for growth.”

Rickards said a similar situation is starting to play out in Fenwick.

“It’s the same thing with the Route 54 corridor,” he said. “There’s a lot of development going on and we have to take a look at how that might impact our north end and possible coordinate with DART on moving people around.”

In other Transportation Committee news, after chasing a moving target all summer with the number of municipal bus drivers trained and mobilized, the number as of late last week had dropped to 139, largely because of attrition, illness or injury or those who simply called it quits early. Public Works Director Hal Adkins said the drop-off should have no impact on deployment levels.

“We will survive the end of summer,” he said. “I have yet to get one complaint this year about the transit service. We get calls and emails about lost cell phones or lost sweatshirts, but not a single complaint about wait times or delays.”

For the first time ever this year, the Boardwalk tram began accepting credit cards and it appears to be paying dividends. For years, the tram was a cash-only operation with riders getting on at depots on either end of the Boardwalk or at any point along the Boardwalk by simply raising their hand. This year, however, the city began accepting credit card payments for the tram with the operators utilizing hand-held scanners.

“We’re finding more folks using credit cards for the tram,” said Adkins. “I think we’re gaining ridership because of it.”

However, it appears cash is still king for the tram. For the month of July alone, Boardwalk tram revenue totaled nearly $400,000. Of that, $34,703 was collected via credit cards at the north and south end transit stations, while another $39,987 was collected on by the operators on the trams themselves.

On the subject of trams, Adkins said a rolling stock assessment reveals they might need to be replaced in the near future.

“We’re reaching a point where they need to be replaced,” he said. “We bought them 12 years ago and I think we need to form a committee to establish what direction we want to go. We need to dive into that sooner rather than later and see what’s out there.”

In related news, town officials are already pre-gaming for their annual meeting with State Highway Administration (SHA) officials this fall. Among the priorities is pushing for an expedited schedule for the dune-style median fence down the center of Coastal Highway from Route 90 to Convention Center Drive.

SHA has fully funded the $5.2 million construction cost for the first phase, which is expected to be completed by the start of next season, but Ocean City officials want to urge SHA to continue with the design and engineering for subsequent phases. The second phase is expected to head south Convention Center drive to 9th Street with future phases heading north toward the Delaware line.

Another priority for Ocean City officials when they meet with SHA in September is a continued push for the dualization of Route 90. With Route 113 nearing the finish line, resort officials would like to see improvements to Route 90 pushed further up the state’s priority list, but SHA will likely address Route 589 first.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.