OCEAN CITY — With new Boardwalk trams and Jeeps to pull them getting ready to be rolled out by Memorial Day weekend, resort officials this week agreed to raise the tram fare from the current $3 to $4.
During a budget wrap-up session on Tuesday, the Mayor and Council had before them a recommendation to raise the standard boarding fare for the Boardwalk tram from the current $3 to $4. The tram fare had last been increased a decade ago and has remained constant at $3 since.
Budget Manager Jennie Knapp reported the tram fare was raised from $2.50 to $2.75 in 2007 with different rates on the weekdays and weekends. In 2009, the tram fare was raised again to a flat $3 with no differentiation in the weekday and weekend rates.
Knapp said each time the rates were increased, there was a temporary decline in ridership numbers, although those riders turned off initially by the fee increase eventually came back. Knapp said Boardwalk tram ridership has remained fairly consistent over the years.
She also added increasing the tram fare to $4 this year would result in roughly $236,000 in new revenue. It should be noted the town offers a coupon book for eight rides for $20 along with an unlimited daily pass for $8. Those discounts would remain in place with the increase in the tram fare from $3 to $4.
Last year, the Mayor and Council approved the purchase of eight new Boardwalk tram coaches along with eight jeeps to pull them. The jeeps will replace the old gas-powered tram motor units. The total cost of that tram replacement including the jeeps came in at around $1.4 million. The new tram coaches and jeeps will increase the capacity per tram from 76 to 80.
With the debt service of $1.4 million on the new trams, along with other rising costs including the pending minimum wage increase, Council President Lloyd Martin said it was likely time to consider raising the passenger fare.
“As the minimum wage goes up, the wages for tram employees also go up,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea. I think a $4 tram fare would be palatable for most people.”
One major difference in the new tram coaches will be the seating. The old trams had seat indentations indicating where people should sit, while the new coaches have bench seating. The prevailing thought is the bench seating without indentations will actually increase capacity, but Knapp said the opposite might actually be true.
“There are some reservations about that,” she said. “The thinking is without the indentations for the seats, people will tend to spread out more. We could actually carry fewer passengers.”
Martin said that could be solved by simply putting lines on the tram benches indicating where people should sit.
“We could look at putting lines on the benches to indicate where people should sit,” he said. “That could make a difference.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said after all the discussions about the new tram coaches and the jeeps to pull them, it was a little concerning to get to the finish line and learn there are reservations about the bench seating.
“I find it disheartening that we’re hearing this today,” he said. “When we discussed the number of trams and the number of riders that ride the trams, we discussed the change in the seats. To be honest, to bring this up at this time means a lack of planning. It’s a little discouraging.”
Nonetheless, Meehan said the time was probably right for increasing the fare for the first time in 10 years with the new state-of-the-art trams rolling out with enhanced sound systems and other new amenities.
“Nobody likes to raise prices, but we have brand new trams out there and there is a debt service associated with them,” he said. “It provides a great service. We will continue to offer the coupon booklet and there is still a break on this and I think people will recognize that. Now is the time to do it.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca agreed there was room to grow in the tram fare considering the new coaches and all of the other new amenities to improve the level and quality of service.
“I agree now is the time with the new equipment rolling out,” he said. “It’s a great service. It’s fun for the visitors and a nice amenity. It’s a luxury really.”
The council voted unanimously to increase the standard boarding fare from $3 to $4, keeping intact the existing discounted coupon book with the lower fare and the ride-all-day unlimited pass. The increase is expected to generate $236,000 in revenue, assuming ridership remains fairly constant. It was also pointed out ridership might increase with eight new Jeeps and coaches on the Boardwalk during peak times because there were often times when the older trams were out of service for various mechanical reasons.
Because the tram drivers and conductors have not yet had time to train with the new equipment, the old trams will be used during May including Springfest with the new system expected to be rolled out by Memorial Day weekend.