OCEAN CITY – With the OC Air Show in the rearview mirror and the peak season rapidly approaching, the Boardwalk tram operation continues to face challenges, but there is reason for optimism.
Like most town departments, along with the private sector business community, the Boardwalk tram operation continues to deal with a decline in personnel, including drivers and conductors. During Wednesday’s Ocean City Transportation Committee meeting, Transit Manager George Peake said the Boardwalk tram was operating at near-desired levels, but the staff continually monitors deployments to ensure enough trams are out there at the peak times.
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.
Thus far this summer, some of those challenges remain, although the situation has eased somewhat. Peake said on Wednesday the staff currently included 18 drivers and 18 conductors, which, with clever deployment strategies, have been able to meet the demand. However, with the peak season rapidly approaching, there will be more demand and more deployment challenges.
“The trams are fully operational for the most part,” he said. “We have 18 drivers and 18 conductors, which isn’t ideal. It’s a bit of a moving target.”
Peake said that moving target includes some that went through the training and had the appropriate license, etc., but the job includes some special skills and there was some drop-off in the original numbers.
“Some decided it wasn’t for them,” he said. “We’re still trying to hire there. If we could get to 28, we could do the target eight deployments. Right now, we’re running around seven.”
One of the pivots when the tram service returned last summer was a noon start time, which allowed for somewhat limited resources to be deployed during peak times. That start time remains in place this summer as part of the department’s plan to maximize resources.
“With tram staffing at around 80%, we are deploying two at noon each day and another comes on between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.,” said Peake “In the evening, we’re operating four to five typically. There have been times when we’ve had six out there.”
Mayor Rick Meehan suggested keeping a close eye on the ridership numbers for that noon start time.
“Is noon the best time to get two out there?” he said. “We need to look at the numbers at noon. Maybe we can get one out there later and carry over into busier times in the evening. We need to maximize our deployment during the peak times.”