OCEAN CITY — Jeeps will once again be pulling the Boardwalk trams next summer as resort officials agreed to purchase the replacement vehicles after getting a look at some of the alternatives.
For the better part of a year, resort officials have been exploring a replacement plan for the Boardwalk trams, which are nearing the end of their useful life. Earlier this year, after considerable debate, Ocean City put out a Request For Proposal (RFP) for two alternative towing units for the trams including a gas-powered option and an electric option, each of which had higher than anticipated 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 Boardwalk.
However, the returns on the RFP did not meet the town’s expectations, sending the proposal back to the drawing board. Last month, the idea of supplementing the tram operation with Jeep Wranglers as towing vehicles for the trams was floated and was largely embraced by the Mayor and Council although no firm decision was reached.
On Monday, however, the Mayor and Council voted unanimously to approve the purchase of two Jeep Wranglers to supplement the tram operation for the 2018 season. The two jeeps will pull the customized passenger components of the trams next season, buying some time for town officials to revisit the RFP for the gas or electric-powered options in the future.
The idea was pitched last week, but Councilman Wayne Hartman asked if the decision to go with jeeps was made before potentially lower costing alternatives were explored. Public Works Director Hal Adkins explored other vehicle options and their potential price tags. It’s important to note in order to qualify for the government discounts on vehicle purchases, the vehicles must be American-made and certain foreign vehicles would not fit in the funding framework.
Adkins presented the Mayor and Council with a handful of alternative vehicles for the tram operation although none of the options were significantly cheaper than the jeeps and their ability to tow the Boardwalk trams even after modifications was uncertain. Adkins presented options such as the Chevrolet Tahoe and Equinox, the Ford Explorer and Escape, the Dodge Durango and the Buick Encore, for example.
He said each had a base price range similar to the Jeep Wrangler and the cost of modifying the vehicles to pull the Boardwalk trams was nearly identical. However, again, Adkins had reservations about the other alternatives’ ability to pull the trams on the Boardwalk. The two jeeps will cost around $23,000 each for the vehicle alone, while the cost of modifying them to be able to pull the trams would come in at around $27,000, for a total price of about $50,000 for each. Adkins pointed out there was around $200,000 allocated in the fiscal year 2018 for tram operation improvements.
Satisfied the proposal met the needs of the tram operation for the summer of 2018, the council unanimously agreed to purchase the two jeeps and make the necessary modifications. It’s also important to note jeeps were used to pull the Boardwalk trams back in the 1990s. With the approval, the council agreed to revisit the RFP for the long-term solution to the tram operation.
In addition, the jeeps can be re-purposed in the future, perhaps for use by the beach patrol, if and when a long-term option is reached for the Boardwalk tram operation. Adkins said the jeeps would come with the basic package and not a lot of extra bells and whistles. With the approval to purchase the jeeps, the only issue still to resolve was what color to get. Adkins said the aesthetic choices were up to the elected officials.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “You need to make that decision on what is acceptable on your Boardwalk. If you have any interest in wrapping them for advertising in the future, I suggest sticking with the basic white.”
Council Secretary Mary Knight had already formed an opinion on the color options available.
“I like the white jeeps with the Ocean City logo on the side,” she said. “That’s just my opinion.”
Councilman Dennis Dare voiced some concern the decision to go with the jeeps could result in some loss of capacity for the tram operation. The current pulling units have room for about six passengers. Adkins assured him the lost capacity could be made up in the passenger vehicles. The current trams have a capacity of around 75, but Adkins was confident that figure could be altered to around 80.
Councilman Tony DeLuca praised the decision to go with the jeep alternative, a proposal first put forth by Councilman Matt James.
“It’s a really great idea,” he said. “It’s beachy, it’s Ocean City cool, they can be re-used and it’s just very, very cost-effective.”