OC Committee Talks How To Modify Tram Operations

OCEAN CITY — With the decision to run the Boardwalk tram this summer firmed up, resort officials this week began discussing some of the operational procedures that will be in place.

During Tuesday’s Transportation Committee, members discussed a variety of issues related to the Boardwalk tram including the potential elimination of one of the fare-paying options. The Mayor and Council last week agreed to restore the Boardwalk tram service on May 28, or the Friday before Memorial Day.

The Boardwalk tram service was eliminated entirely last summer amid concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, the transportation committee began discussing what the resumption of the Boardwalk tram operation for this summer might look like. For example, one agenda item included potentially eliminating one or more of the fare-paying options, including the discount purchase cards.

There are several options for purchasing passes for the Boardwalk tram including buying tickets at the stations at either end of the promenade. The trams will also stop at practically any point along the Boardwalk to pick up or discharge passengers. In either case, with the pandemic ongoing, the committee on Tuesday discussed eliminating the discount punch card in the interest of reducing interactions between the passengers and the conductors.

The standard Boardwalk tram fare is $4 per person for a one-way ride. There is also available to discount punch card for $26 that includes eight tram rides. With the discount punch card, the rate per ride reduces from the standard $4 to $3.25. However, Public Works Director Hal Adkins said on Tuesday there has been consideration given to eliminating the discount punch card altogether in the interest of public safety during the pandemic.

“We have some concerns about the multiple fare options available,” he said. “We didn’t run at all last year, and we’re going to run on a limited basis this year. Given the desire to limit contact, should we limit the number of options to pay the fare?”

Mayor Rick Meehan said more often than not, the discount punch cards are a point-of-sale opportunity at the trams themselves, as opposed to purchasing tickets in advance at the stations with social distancing and other directives observed.

“With the discount punch card, my understanding is it isn’t something that is purchased in advance,” he said. “It’s more like something offered by the conductors. It creates more interaction between the passengers and the conductors, and that’s something we’re trying to avoid.”

According to recent data compiled by Budget Manager Jennie Knapp, again the tram did not run last year, roughly 230,000 passengers, or 66%, rode the tram at the regular $4 rate, while another 14,000, or 27%, purchased the discount punch cards. There is also a local resident senior pass available, but that fare’s contribution to the overall picture was negligible. Adkins said the discussion about eliminating the discount pass was more about limiting the interaction between passengers and conductors than it was about the bottom line.

“It’s a discount card,” he said. “I don’t think eliminating it will adversely affect revenue. If anything, it could create an uptick in revenue.”

Meehan said eliminating the discount pass, often purchased mid-trip, could improve the tram’s efficiency.

“It will speed up service,” he said. “I think it will ease some of the anxiety for the riders. I just think it’s a good idea. We also have to remember they are brand-new trams because we didn’t run last year.”

The committee ultimately voted to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and Council to eliminate the discount punch card in the interest of limiting contact. In terms of improving public safety on the trams this summer, Operations Manager Steve Bartlett said plans are already in place to reduce the number of seats available in the passenger cars.

“We’re eliminating 10-16 seats,” he said. “There will be no back-to-back seating. In other words, there won’t be any passenger heads back-to-back. We’re also going forward with the messaging of ride at your own risk and social distance where possible.”

Finally, there was some discussion about the altered plans for getting the trams to and from the Boardwalk each day. The new public works facility at 2nd Street and St. Louis Avenue will house the trams, creating a change in the pattern for how they reach the Boardwalk. As a result, the trams will have to cross Philadelphia Avenue each day to reach the ramp at 3rd Street.

Ocean City for years petitioned the State Highway Administration (SHA) to install a traffic signal at 3rd Street to no avail. As a result, the Boardwalk trams are now equipped with state-of-the-art equipment that will synchronize the existing traffic signals at 5th and 2nd Streets. When the trams are ready to cross Philadelphia Avenue, the light at 5th Street will turn red and the light at 2nd Street southbound will trip to green, allowing the tram to cross at 3rd Street. Bartlett said the new traffic-signal equipment has been tested and is ready to go.

“Every tram is equipped,” he said. “I have personally checked every one. It’s pretty cool equipment and it works as planned.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.