OC Looks To Explore Foreign Workers’ Transportation Habits

OCEAN CITY — During a larger debate this week about enhancing ridership on the municipal transit system, resort officials discussed a potential opportunity to reach out to the thousands of foreign student-workers who flock to the beach each summer.

Among the items on the agenda for the Transportation Committee this week was an overview of the ridership numbers for the municipal bus system, and while the figures declined somewhat from last year’s record season, the overall impression was another solid year. However, there is always room for improvement and resort transportation officials are exploring untapped potential ridership markets.

Public Works Director Hal Adkins told the committee he was looking into the transportation patterns of the thousands of foreign student-workers in the resort on J-1 visas. It’s no secret there is a significant shortage of seasonal workforce housing on the island and many of the J-1 students now live in West Ocean City.

Adkins said he had discussed the situation with Annemarie Conestabile of United Work and Travel, one of the major sponsors for J-1 students in the resort, who said about 400 of the organization’s 1,200 students, or about a third, are now housed in West Ocean City.

“Due to a shortage in Ocean City, she is housing about 400 students off the island in West Ocean City,” he said. “We are working on a project to somehow collect their addresses and find out where they live relative to our transit system. There might be an opportunity here.”

Adkins said there could be clusters of student-worker housing in West Ocean City in relatively close proximity to the Park-and-Ride and its links to the resort’s bus system.

“There could be a way to capture some ridership, eliminate some bikes and minimize some potential hazards,” he said. “I want to make it clear that we’re talking about our transit system as it is with the buses in town and the Park-and-Ride. We not interested in any expansion of our system, but there might be an opportunity here if we can find out where they live.”

Councilman Dennis Dare said even if the foreign student-workers had better access to the municipal transit system, getting them to abandon the bikes and ride the bus could be challenging.

“Some of them balk at the $3 ride all day,” he said. “They would be more likely to ride if they were getting a deal.”

Adkins agreed a discount would be needed, saying, “If you look at 120 days of summer at $3 per day, that $360. They’re not going to pay that. They’re going to buy the bike from Wal-Mart for $89.”

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.