OCEAN CITY — After agreeing to scrap bid proposals for the replacement of the Boardwalk trams, resort officials have zeroed in on jeeps as replacement vehicles, although a firm decision was diverted to a future meeting.
For the last several months, Ocean City has been working on a replacement plan for the Boardwalk trams, which are nearing the end of their useful life. Two options were essentially on the table after considerable discussion over the last several months including gas-powered towing units for the passenger cars and electric towing units, both of which came with varied price tags.
Resort officials envisioned paying more for the electric units up front, but saving in the long run on fuel and maintenance costs. The proposed gas-powered towing units would come with lower up-front costs, but some downsides would be unstable fuel costs and maintenance costs, along with emissions and other noise pollution on the seaside promenade.
To that end, town officials agreed earlier this year to put out a Request For Proposal (RFP) for both options and see what alternatives came back.
However, when the bids were received, staff was not pleased with either of the two bids returned. Neither of the bidders offered an electric-powered option and the proposed custom-made gas powered options came with concerns including aesthetics.
As a result, during a meeting last month, the staff recommended considering the purchase of two Jeep Wranglers to supplement the tram operation for the 2018 season at an estimated cost of $50,000 each and re-evaluating the RFP for the tram replacement next year in advance of the following summer season. During Tuesday’s work session, the idea of supplementing the tram operation with jeeps was revisited although no decision was reached.
Procurement Manager Catrice Parsons told the Mayor and Council neither of the successful bidders had offered an electric option, nor did they even produce an electric-powered tug unit. Parsons suggested the Mayor and Council toss out the received bids and go back to the drawing board, while considering jeeps to pull the trams during the 2018 season.
“It took us by surprise somewhat,” she said. “We were under the impression they had produced electric-powered trams. We’re suggesting we throw out the proposals and go in a different direction for 2018.”
Public Works Director Hal Adkins pointed out the resort had utilized jeeps to pull the Boardwalk tram passenger cars decades ago and had a solid history with the operation.
“We have a history of running a fleet of jeeps to pull the passenger trailers,” he said. “It goes back to the 1990s. I don’t have any negative history with the jeeps.”
Adkins urged the council to consider voting to move forward with the purchase of two jeeps for 2018, which would then be refitted to meet the needs of pulling the tram passenger cars. Adkins said the two jeeps could supplement the existing trams and ensure maximum deployment during the 2018 season.
“Let’s consider the acquisition of two jeeps for 2018,” he said. “It would position us to cannibalize a tug or two and keep them running. I suggest we purchase two Jeep Wranglers and then rebid the passenger cars next year.”
On a side note, Adkins said there were some deployment issues during the 2017 summer season with the trams largely caused by staffing issues. He vowed steps would be taken to avoid a similar scenario in 2018.
“I’m going to be brutally honest. We had some staffing issues with the trams this summer,” he said. “Some of the staff left the tram division and became bus drivers. We’re going to take action this winter to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Councilman Wayne Hartman said he had no problem moving forward with the plan for jeeps to pull the Boardwalk trams next summer, but questioned if it had been investigated if that was the best option. Hartman said there could be other options to consider that could come in at a lower cost and still accomplish the stated goals.
“I really like the direction this is going and I remember the jeeps pulling the trams as a kid,” he said. “If this is the direction we’re going, I’d like to see all of the options. We need to look at what is suitable for the Boardwalk atmosphere. We could have a beachy-looking jeep for $50,000, or we might find a Ford Explorer to pull the tram at just $25,000.”
Hartman expressed some displeasure with the details being worked out at the transportation committee level before being presented to the full council, a recurring theme for the councilman in recent weeks on various issues.
“This is another example of things being fleshed out at the committee level,” he said. “I know I say this all of the time, but there are things decided at the committee level that should be vetted by the full Mayor and Council. I want to see all of the options. I want to get this right the first time.”
Adkins said the current capacity of the Boardwalk trams is around 75, but suggested that figure could be increased to around 80 if jeeps were used to pull two passenger vehicles, resulting in a gain in capacity rather than an expected loss. The current tram towing units include some passenger seats which the jeeps would not afford, but Adkins assured the council there would be no net loss in capacity with the jeeps.
It’s important to note the town of Ocean City is currently developing a new public works facility at 2nd Street and St. Louis Avenue which will ultimately house the tram operation. Adkins has repeatedly said the design and engineering for the new facility was largely completed, and going back to the drawing board and redesigning the facility for three passenger vehicles for the jeep-pulled trams instead of two would present problems. However, Councilman Dennis Dare urged the three-passenger car option at least be explored.
“We need to take a closer look at pulling three passenger cars instead of two,” he said. “If we can increase capacity, we can increase revenue.”
Parsons said an added benefit to going with the jeep option for the Boardwalk trams was the potential for moving them to other departments when they outlived their usefulness for the tram operation but still had considerable life left in them.
“The jeeps can be repurposed,” she said. “After they have reached their useful life pulling the trams, they can be passed down to the Beach Patrol, for example.”
What Hartman expressed a desire to explore alternatives to the jeeps as tram-pulling units, Council Secretary Mary Knight said the jeeps served an aesthetic appeal as well as a practical one. She also pointed to the past history of the jeeps pulling the trams on the Boardwalk.
“I like the openness of the jeeps,” she said. “I think they allow the drivers to engage the passengers and better see pedestrians on the Boardwalk rather than being in a closed vehicle. I like that.”
Council President Lloyd Martin agreed the jeeps likely made the most sense for the Boardwalk tram operation.
“I think the jeeps are the way to go,” he said. “I think we need that openness for the drivers.”
After considerable debate, the council voted unanimously to forward the final decision to next week’s regular Mayor and Council session. In the meantime, Adkins said he would explore other options to satisfy Hartman’s concerns.