OCEAN CITY — A later start time for the Boardwalk tram this summer will, in turn, add a little more time for bikes, resort officials decided this week.
During Tuesday’s Transportation Committee meeting, moving back the daily start time for the Boardwalk tram was discussed. Last year, because of COVID, the tram did not operate. This year, it will return to normal operations on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Through text messages and emails, Mayor Rick Meehan suggested moving the daily start time back to noon, according to Public Works Director Hal Adkins.
“The mayor desires changing the deployment schedule to start to the trams at noon,” he said. “We don’t track revenue on an hourly basis, but in consultation with the senior staff, we don’t make enough revenue from 11 a.m. to noon to cover the operating expenses.”
The committee agreed to recommend the noon start time for the trams, with a few exceptions. On certain special event weekends, the tram operation will begin at 10 a.m. because of the demand, according to Adkins.
“On Springfest and Sunfest, he still suggests starting at 10 a.m.,” he said. “Any special events that are Boardwalk or beach-related, we should start at 10 a.m. There is more ridership during those events, and probably the air show.”
In a typical year, the trams start running at 11 a.m. and bicycles are supposed to be off the Boardwalk by 11 a.m. The transition can often be challenging with the trams interacting with bikes still on the Boardwalk. Adkins suggested a noon start time for the trams could ease that transition.
“That’s what the bike rules currently say,” he said. “All summer, they’re supposed to be off the Boardwalk by 11 a.m. You may want to allow the bikes to stay out there until noon, or you might want to have that one-hour transition time.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca said he often rides his bicycle on the Boardwalk and the mid-morning transition time creates challenges.
“I’m out there often,” he said. “Sometimes, trying to get off there at 11 a.m. with the trams coming down is a little hairy.”
The transportation committee discussed keeping the 11 a.m. stop time for bikes on the Boardwalk, or allowing them to remain out there until noon, or some sort of compromise. On Wednesday, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee voted to send a favorable recommendation to the Mayor and Council for an 11:30 a.m. stop time for bikes, allowing them enough time to clear off before the trams start running at noon.
Sticking with trams, Meehan, who was not present at the meeting, but had communicated with DeLuca and Adkins, suggested altering the start time deployment for the trams so one does not run empty to the north terminal. With the completion of the public works complex at 2nd Street, the trams will now enter the Boardwalk at the ramp at 3rd Street, with one heading north to 27th Street and one heading south to the terminal at the Inlet.
After the first two trams enter the Boardwalk, more trams are added at intervals throughout the day until full deployment is reached. Operations Manager Steve Bartlett suggested not tampering with a system that works well.
“No matter what time we start, the deployment will be the same,” he said. “It’s an orchestrated dance. One goes south, and one goes north dead-headed. We better have one north and one south at the start of the day because that’s how it’s advertised. Then, we’re set for the day.”
Finally, the discussion about tram operations turned to advertising. There are six advertising panels on each tram, including four on the sides and one each on the back and front. The town sells the advertising panels to a wide variety of local and regional business, colleges and universities and even local health departments, etc. Administrative Transit Manager Brian Conner said the advertising panels are just now starting to fill up for the season.
“Of no surprise, last year without running the tram system, there were some challenges,” he said. “This year, some people went out of business and some people moved their advertising budgets to other parts of their business. We’re still doing pretty well with the advertising.”
Conner said thus far 69% of the tram advertising panels have been sold, while 31% remain empty. He said a new trend is a “tram takeover,” where a single entity will buy all six panels on a single tram. Conner said if all the panels aren’t sold, the town can utilize the empty spaces.
“We do have some town messaging we can use to fill the empty spaces,” he said. “We can work with special events and get their messages out there. We don’t want to run with empty panels. If someone comes along and wants to pay, that would be a priority.”
DeLuca, who chairs the Coastal Resources Legislative Committee, or Green Team, said those empty panels could be used to advertise the town’s new Litter Free OC campaign.
“We’ll do as many panels as you have empty,” he said. “If we can get some messages out there about cigarettes and butt huts, we can get grant money to pay for them,” he said. “’Keep America Beautiful’ will pay for it.”