OCEAN CITY — Thanks in large part to the opportunity for riders to use credit cards at the point of sale, the Boardwalk tram has already blown past its revenue projections for fiscal year 2017 with two solid months of summer remaining on the front end of next season.
Through much of last winter, the Public Works’ transportation department began exploring the use of credit cards for mid-Boardwalk pick-ups in the interest of increasing revenue and improving the customer experience. Credit cards could always be used at the terminals on either end of the Boardwalk, but for customers picking up the tram mid-trip somewhere along the Boardwalk, it had been strictly cash and carry.
This year, however, Boardwalk tram staffers began carrying hand-held credit and debit card approval devices allowing customers to board mid-trip and simply swipe their cards without digging around for exact change. On Monday, the Transportation Committee got an update on the results for the first season and the figures were impressive.
“They’re really taking off,” said Public Works Director Hal Adkins. “When you compare the numbers from last year, we’re already at a 5.7-percent increase for this fiscal year and we still have an entire spring and early summer season. That’s an excellent number.”
A look at the numbers bears out that sentiment. Last year, the Boardwalk tram generated $1.21 million in revenue and has generated $1.28 million thus far in fiscal year 2017, which ends next June 30. Essentially, the tram revenue for this fiscal year still has May and June of next year to add to that already-higher total. To put it in further perspective, the tram revenue for the entire fiscal year was budgeted for $1.22 million and it has already blown by that figure at $1.28 million with two relatively strong months to go.
Mayor Rick Meehan, who serves on the Transportation Committee and pushed for the expanded credit card opportunity for riders, said the proof was in the pudding with the increases seen already.
“I really think the credit card use on the tram has been very strong,” he said. “I think that’s only going to continue to grow. It has improved the efficiency of the operation and it has improved customer service.”
Operations Manager Steve Bartlett agreed expanding the credit card opportunities for customers not only improved the experience for riders, but made life easier for the drivers and conductors.
“When we went into this season, it was the best thing that has happened for the tram operation,” he said. “The person that can’t pull out that $18 for six people or whatever can pull their card out and move right along.”
Also credited with improving the ridership numbers on the Boardwalk tram was the relatively new “Raise Your Hand, Ride the Tram,” public awareness campaign. The brainchild of Councilman and Transportation Committee member Dennis Dare, the idea is to educate visitors on how to hail the tram and hop on at any point along the Boardwalk. Resort communications officials created a public awareness video that was aired on cable television and social media outlets through the latter half of the summer season, and with a full season of the campaign next year, tram ridership numbers are expected to continue to increase.
Meanwhile, Adkins reminded committee members on Monday some of the trams will soon need replacing and urged them to begin planning on a way to fund that.
“It’s time to figure out what we’re going to do with this,” he said. “Some of the trams are starting to show their age.”
Dare said because of the uniqueness of the trams, it is likely time to begin pursuing bids and planning a funding mechanism, even if the replacements are still two years out.
“It’s not like these things are just sitting on a parking lot somewhere in Indiana,” he said. “We need to start planning now for 2018.”