Officials Discuss Return To Earlier Tram Time Vs. Extra Bike Hour

Officials Discuss Return To Earlier Tram Time Vs. Extra Bike Hour
File photo by Chris Parypa

OCEAN CITY — The Boardwalk tram start time and the potential return of the unlimited ride pass were topics of discussion this week for resort transportation officials.

The Transportation Committee met on Tuesday to discuss a variety of issues with the summer season approaching. Among the topics were issues related to the Boardwalk tram, from the proposed start time for daily operations to the return of certain discount passes.

Two years ago, during the height of the pandemic, the Boardwalk tram operation was suspended for the entire summer season with strict distancing and other measures in place. Last year, the tram operation returned, but deployments were limited by staffing challenges.

One of the pivots during the difficult times was moving the daily start time for the trams from 10 a.m. to noon. With staffing challenges, the concept was the later start time would allow for more trams on the Boardwalk at peak times. It was also determined ridership numbers and revenue were low during those first two hours before noon. On Tuesday, Mayor Rick Meehan asked if that schedule was still the plan for the upcoming season.

“What are plans for normal tram hours of operation?” he said. “We have been starting at noon. Is that still the case?”

Acting Transit Manager George Peaks said with recruiting and retention numbers looking good, the tentative plan was to return to the 10 a.m. start time.

“We’re going to run earlier,” he said. “It looks like we’re going to have the personnel to do it this year.”

A side benefit to the noon start time for the trams was extra morning time on the Boardwalk for bicycles. Meehan said he believed all along the noon start time would become a permanent thing.

“My understanding is those earlier hours weren’t profitable,” he said. “It also extends the bike hours.”

Councilman and committee member Frank Knight said he recalled the original conversation about the later start time for the trams.

“It was a whole bike-tram thing,” he said. “We decided to start the trams later and let the bikes stay out there longer.”

Meehan said he preferred sticking with the noon start time for the trams for a variety of reasons.

“I know that the noon start time was well-received,” he said. “It made the bike people happy, but it was also based on ridership and revenue.”

There was a discussion about certain festivals and special events when it would be appropriate to start tram service at 10 a.m.

“There are a couple of holidays and weekends and events where we can start earlier,” said Meehan. “It does create some conflicts with bikes. I think Springfest and Sunfest should start at 10 a.m.”

The discussion then turned toward certain Boardwalk tram special rates and passes. The standard $4 fare still generates the highest percentage of tram ridership, but the town previously offered an $8 unlimited ride pass and a $26 discount punch card. Those passes and special rates went away when the tram service was eliminated or limited over the last two seasons.

Public Works Director Hal Adkins on Tuesday asked the committee if there was any interest in bringing those special rates back with the tram service returning to normal.

“They have been discontinued because it appears we will be fully staffed,” he said. “Is there any interest in bringing that back?”

Meehan said the $26 punch card created challenges because the drivers and conductors had to stop the trams to punch the cards of those boarding with the special pass.

“I’m not interested in bringing back the $26 punch cards,” he said. “I think it just slows the whole operation down.”

As far as bringing back the $8 unlimited ride ticket, Meehan said he was amenable to restating it this season.

“It looks like we’re good with staff,” he said. “We can rely on that, but it might be too soon.”

City Manager Terry McGean expressed little interest in going back to the special passes and discounted rates.

“My feeling is the tram is a ride,” he said. “It’s not a form of transportation in my opinion.”

Knight said he has heard few complaints from residents and visitors about the discontinuation of the passes.

“I work at the Boardwalk cottage all summer,” he said. “The main complaint is there are not enough trams. We almost never hear anyone complain about the lack of passes.”

At any rate, Meehan said he wanted to be sure the demand for the tram was met this summer.

“We want to make sure we have trams out there when we need them,” he said. “We want to have the maximum number of trams out there at the peak times.”

Adkins said increased data collection could help drive the deployment schedule.

“We’ve never had per-hour ridership numbers,” he said. “I would like to have that. That would give us the data we need to determine deployments.”

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.