Though it never sits well with consumers to pay more, the concept of increasing user fees in Ocean City for the bus and Boardwalk tram makes sense. The majority of the cost to provide the customer service needs to be funded by the users.
Under review and ultimately receiving a favorable recommendation from the Ocean City Transportation Committee last week was a proposal from staff to increase the fares for the bus and trams to help offset rising expenses being felt with fuel and employment. The proposal will now go to the full Mayor and Council for adoption before the season at a future meeting.
The committee last week reviewed the increases. The all-day bus fare – the first increase since 2011 — would jump 33% from $3 to $4. The change would bring in an additional $390,545 if ridership remains flat. The last time the rider fee was increased in 2011 ridership dropped 12%, but the chances are the decrease in volume will not be as pronounced because it remains a value in Ocean City.
The 25% tram increase would take the per-ride fee from $4 to $5, increasing revenues by about $95,000 under a flat ridership model.
Ocean City’s transportation system has been stressed in recent years because of the pandemic and related economic factors. The biggest issue remains a shortage of drivers, requiring the city to increase hourly pay significantly as well as boosting incentives such as signing bonuses. Compounding the problem is the astronomical fuel prices that have stabilized but show no signs of returning to the lower prices under the former federal administration.
It will be an unpopular decision but increasing the bus and tram fees will largely impact tourists who expect to pay a reasonable rate for a service that’s rooted in convenience. Even with the proposed increases, the fees remain reasonable.
We think the council should move this recommendation forward to ease the gap between revenues and expenditures, while giving some consideration to sheltering locals from the brunt of the bus fare increase where possible.