OCEAN CITY – With the summer season winding down, resort officials are looking ahead at driver recruitment efforts for next year.
In an Ocean City Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday, Public Works Director Hal Adkins, Transit Manager Mark Rickards and Human Resources Director Wayne Evans detailed the town’s efforts to recruit and retain bus and tram drivers ahead of the 2019 season.
“As we head into the fall season, we start putting our thoughts into next summer,” Adkins said.
Over the summer, Rickards reported fewer bus drivers and staff from the year prior. While he reported having 138 bus drivers and staff in early July – 10 less than the previous year – numbers dwindled to 118 by August.
“We had to pay a little bit of overtime to keep our deployments up,” he said. “But we still met all of our schedules.”
However, Rickards noted that all 23 tram conductors remained throughout the summer months.
As in years past, Evans said the town will continue to develop a pool of applicants from advertisements, job fairs, CDL training programs and more.
“It’s a fairly robust recruitment effort,” he said.
In addition to implementing referral and reimbursement programs that would aid in its recruitment efforts, Evans said the town could also reexamine how it utilized its drivers.
“We can talk about how best to utilize the drivers that we have and how they are deployed,” he said.
Budget Manager Jennie Knapp also questioned if the town should reexamine the number of drivers it would like to hire each season.
“Should we also look at the number of drivers and make sure 150 is still a target we want to have?” she said. “Perhaps it should be lower than that because more deployments doesn’t necessarily equate to more riders and more revenue.”
Councilman Dennis Dare agreed.
“In August the number of deployments this year was down 125 from last year,” he said. “That’s four deployments a day less, but the ridership was up. So sometimes you work smarter not harder.”
The committee on Tuesday also received an update on a grant application the town is pursuing.
Currently, the town is working with Grants Coordinator Wayne Pryor to secure a portion of funding awarded to the state through a Volkswagen diesel settlement.
As part of the settlement, town officials said the state would be eligible to receive more than $75 million for emission reduction strategies and programs, with $4 million of that money to be used on grants for public transit vehicles.
“From previous discussions at the transportation meeting, the application is being written around a request for one articulating bus,” he said. “The last time we bought an articulating bus it cost around $700,000. Please realize we are competing for $700,000 out of a total of $4 million for the whole state of Maryland.”
Transit Administrator Brian Connor told the committee grants are awarded through a matrix that gives points for vehicle requests that would reduce pollutants, improve sustainability, benefit underserved communities and requests that come with a local match.
While he said it would be difficult for the town to secure such a large portion of grant funding, Dare said he saw the advantage of requesting an articulating bus as opposed to a smaller, traditional transit bus.
“If it can carry 100 people instead of 60 people with one engine, that’s where the advantage is from an environmental standpoint,” he said. “If we went in, for the sake of discussion, with a 50/50 cost share, that also gets us 10 points.”