Articulating Buses Coming To Resort

OCEAN CITY — Resort transportation officials have accepted as many as four 60-foot articulating buses, referred to often as “super sweepers” from the Maryland Transit Authority in what appears to be a high reward-low risk move.

The Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) is retiring many of its 60-foot articulating buses and has offered the Town of Ocean City as many as three or four of them for a simple donation of $1 each. The MTA is retiring its 2008 articulating buses because they have met their useful life criteria and will replaced, but the buses, often called “super sweepers,” or “vacuum cleaners” still have plenty of life in them to meet the needs in a seasonal resort.

On Feb. 9, the Ocean City Transportation Committee discussed accepting what is essentially a donation of as many as four of the MTA’s articulating buses. The $1 fee is included basically for contract purposes for the transfer. The town of Ocean City currently owns two 60-foot-articulating buses, which are basically a traditional 40-foot standard bus connected to a connected additional passenger compartment.

The articulating buses, with a capacity of around 100, can absorb many more passengers in a short amount of time than the traditional buses. They are extremely useful in absorbing big crowds on bus stops, especially after major events such as the air show or after the Fourth of July fireworks, for example.

Again, the town currently has two articulating buses with a brand-new third expected to be delivered this fall. Transportation officials have long desired six articulating buses to mix in with its fleet of standard 40-foot buses and accepting the donation from the MTA would bring that to the desired number, according to Transportation Director Mark Rickards.

“Right now, we have two articulating buses,” he said. “They are lifesavers out there. I recommend accepting the three- to four to bring us up to six.”

Accepting the articulating buses appears to be a high reward, low risk proposition for the town. The buses are a hybrid diesel-electric model, meaning they have a battery pack and charge themselves as they go. They require no charging stations or charging pads, for example.

The only potential downside is if one or more of them break down during the summer, the transportation department currently does not have staff trained or the equipment needed to repair them. If one or more breaks down in the short term, the towing and repair would have to be outsourced.

However, that risk is minimal. Even if one of the donated articulating buses goes down and the town did not want to expend the funds needed to repair it, the donated buses still have value. A 60-foot articulating bus with useful life remaining could easily be sold on or E-bay, for example, or even cannibalized for parts or scrap. In short, they have far more value than the $1 donation to the MTA, according to Administrative Transit Manager Brian Conner.

“If they break down, we have the ability to dispose of them and recoup the losses,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of risk.”

The eventual cost to train fleet mechanics and obtain the necessary equipment to service the hybrid articulating buses would likely cost around $40,000, a cost worth bearing, according to Council Secretary and committee member Tony DeLuca.

“It’s a $40,000 risk for a value of $2 million,” he said. “It’s worth the risk for what we get in terms of service, especially with COVID and the desire for more spacing.”

For his part, Rickards recommended going forward with the donation.

“I think it’s a prudent decision,” he said. “If one goes down and decide to dispose of it, we stand to gain revenue.”

The committee voted unanimously to forward a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and Council.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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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.