OCEAN CITY- The decision on the Boardwalk tram coaches was finalized this week, but the verdict on acquiring a ninth set of passenger cars was left open-ended.
Late last year, the Mayor and Council opted to replace the existing motor units of the Boardwalk trams with Jeep Wranglers after considering other alternatives including gas-powered units or electric unit. The Jeeps were ultimately chosen for their efficiency and lower cost estimates. The next major decision involved the replacement of Boardwalk trams and the style, length and number of coaches to purchase.
Earlier in July, Procurement Manager Catrice Parsons presented recommendations to the Mayor and Council after carefully vetting the received bids. However, there were some numbers that had not been finalized. Rather than make a decision at that point, the council instructed Parsons and staff to revisit some of the numbers and come back with a true bottom line.
At Tuesday’s work session, Parsons came back with a final figure for eight sets of passenger coaches with a price tag of $1.12 million. Adding a ninth set, which was a desire of some on the council, could raise the price to $1.26 million, but could also provide the flexibility to have nine trams operating on the Boardwalk at peak times, or allow the trams to pull a third passenger coach, thereby increasing the capacity.
Under the proposal, each of the Jeeps can will pull two coaches with a capacity of 40 passengers, for a total capacity of 80. The new coaches will have an updated state-of-the-art sound and intercom system, cameras located throughout the trams consistent with the cameras on municipal buses and bench seating with a capacity of 80 passengers. The current trams have a capacity to carry 76 passengers by comparison.
Councilman Dennis Dare pushed for at least considering purchasing the ninth set of tram cars to provide the flexibility to increase capacity.
“The trams are profitable, I wouldn’t say very profitable, but they are profitable,” he said. “It fluctuates, but it’s around a half-a-million riders per year. It is an amusement for most, but some use it for transportation.”
Dare pointed out the Boardwalk tram is consistently profitable and can help offset losses incurred by the municipal bus system.
“Any profit from the trams can help offset the buses,” he said. “That’s important this year because the buses have an operation deficit of around $1.4 million. That’s the equivalent of 1.6 cents on the tax rate. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s around $50 for every tax bill we send out.”
For those reasons, Dare said he just wanted to make sure the proposed tram purchases and the capacity to add a third coach.
“That’s why I want to make sure we can maximize the capacity on the trams,” he said. “I want to make perfectly sure the equipment we’re bidding will have the capacity for a three-car set-up.”
There are some challenges with going to a three-car tram set-up on the crowded Boardwalk from a training and public safety standpoint. For example, the longer trams would have a longer turning radius. In addition, there are some supervision and monitoring concerns with longer trams carrying more and more passengers.
However, Dare pointed out the Jeeps had been used in the past and pulled three passenger coaches and showed an older cover of the Sea for Yourself guide to illustrate his point.
“Just say it’s a Saturday and we want all eight trams out there, but somebody calls out and we go with seven,” he said. “We could leave a lot of revenue out there, but if we could hook up a third coach, we could offset some of that.”
After considerable debate, the council voted unanimously to purchase the eight sets of tram passenger coaches with an option to buy the ninth with the price locked in at the same rate.