OCEAN CITY — A decision on the length and number of new Boardwalk tram coaches was put on hold this week after concerns were raised about the bottom line.
Late last year, the Mayor and Council opted to replace the existing motor units of the Boardwalk trams with Jeep Wrangler after considering other alternatives including gas-powered units or electric unit. The jeeps were ultimately chosen for their efficiency and lower cost estimates. After the Jeeps were chosen, the next major decision was the style, length and number of coaches to purchase.
The project was put out to bid this spring and Procurement Manager Catrice Parsons on Monday presented options after carefully vetting the bids. One option calls for each of the Jeeps to pull two coaches with a capacity of 40, for a total of 80 passengers on each tram. Another option on the table called for the Jeeps to pull three coaches each with a capacity of 35, for a total of 105.
For the record, the current Boardwalk trams each have a capacity of around 76 passengers, so either option represents an upgrade in capacity. During a meeting last week, the transportation committee recommended the two 40-passenger coach configuration, and Parsons said the staff shared that recommendation after exploring the bids.
“We asked for two types through the bidding process including a two-coach setup and a three-coach setup,” she said. “There was also a third option that included three coaches with a capacity of 115 passengers, but it wasn’t feasible because cost was an issue. It didn’t fit into with our budgeted amount.”
Cost is certainly an issue in the final decision. The eight two-coach setups with a capacity of 80 passengers comes in with a price tag of about $1.1 million. There was also discussion of adding a ninth two-coach setup, which would increase the price to around $1.3 million. Purchasing eight three-coach setups would come with the price tag around $1.8 million.
Parsons explained there were some challenges with the three-car coaches that could make the final decision easier. She explained the longer three-coach trams presented some safety and training issues. For example, the three-coach trams would have a longer turning radius that could make navigating the Boardwalk more difficult. In addition, there are other safety issues to consider.
“Additional training would be needed for the drivers and there would be additional hookup complications,” she said. “There could be an increased chance of striking a pedestrian and there could be an increased chance of pedestrians trying to cross between the coaches with the longer trams.”
Parsons said there is some sense of urgency with the decision. Once the winning bid is accepted, there is an eight-month delivery timetable, which could put the delivery of the new coaches in a pretty tight window for next season. She also said the council could decide later to add a ninth coach because the price would be fixed for 18 months.
However, Councilman John Gehrig said there were too many loose ends in terms of alternatives and price projections to make a decision.
“We’re a business and I wouldn’t make a decision without knowing the final price,” he said. “We need to know what the money is and I don’t want to make a decision because of time constraints.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca agreed.
“I agree with John,” he said. “We shouldn’t make a decision without the final numbers and dollars. If the dollars come back acceptable, we can vote on this via email to meet the time issues.”
In the end, it was decided the final numbers could be determined by the next work session, which would still meet the time constraints for getting the new coaches before next season.