OCEAN CITY — In an effort to stay in front of another anticipated labor shortage, resort transportation officials this week discussed incentives for retaining returning drivers and attracting new ones.
For Ocean City, the departments most affected by last summer’s worker shortage were the transportation division; including bus drivers and Boardwalk tram operators, public works, including solid waste and maintenance; and recreation and parks.
During a Transportation Committee meeting on Tuesday, Public Works Director Hal Adkins, and his staff, including Acting Transit Manager George Peaks, discussed a variety of options for retaining drivers and attracting new ones for the municipal bus system and the Boardwalk tram. Both operations had their deployment schedules reduced last year because of the lack of staff.
Adkins outlined some proposals for bolstering staff in the transportation division, including wage hikes and potential signing bonuses. In addition, last month the Mayor and Council approved accelerated increases in the pay grades for certain full-time and part-time town staffers.
City Manager Doug Miller worked with Adkins and his staff on incentive packages to retain and attract new drivers. Miller cautioned against offering attractive signing bonuses for new drivers without incentivizing returning drivers.
“We could create some hard feelings,” he said. “Just say you are a returning driver and the new guy gets a $500 bonus. I’d rather pay the existing driver for recruiting a new driver.”
Human Resources Director Katie Callan said the staff shortage issue is essentially town-wide and a blanket approach might be needed.
“In an ideal world, it would be a town-wide solution,” she said. “It will be difficult to implement. What the incentive for transportation? Is it different for recreations and parks, or the police department? I don’t think we’re going to find a one-size-fits-all.”
For his part, Peaks said there are several options on the table.
“We need to figure out what works best for us,” he said. “For us, it might be a retention bonus, or a loyalty bonus.”
Callan agreed a healthy incentive program for existing and new drivers in the transportation department, particularly bus and tram drivers, would have to be handled carefully.
“The unintentional consequences if we do something for the transportation department is the other departments are going to say what about us,” she said. “There would likely be a ripple-effect.”
Peaks said his biggest concern was municipal bus drivers. Despite staff shortages that limited deployments at certain times, Peaks said he was confident in a solid return from tram drivers and conductors next season.
“I’m very optimistic with the adjustments in salaries for the tram division,” he said. “I think were will be a good return in that division.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said filling the ranks of the tram operators should be a priority.
“I think the tram division should be a priority,” he said. “It’s an amenity, and the revenue from the tram drives the department. We have a new fleet of trams and they need to be out there in the summer.”
Adkins said a good source for recruiting drivers could be the retirees in the various civic organizations.
“When it comes to the civic organizations such as the American Legion or the Elks, for example, I’ve asked George to reach out to their leadership,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how they are communicating with their membership, whether its email blasts or a newsletter. We don’t want to go on a recruiting effort to one of their meetings and there are four people there.”