OC Transportation Officials Talk Tram Deployments

OCEAN CITY – A review of ridership in Ocean City led to a larger discussion this week about Boardwalk trams and the need for more deployments in the evening hours.

On Tuesday, Transit Manager Rob Shearman presented members of the Ocean City Transportation Committee with an update on ridership and deployment for the month of June. While bus ridership lagged by roughly 2% compared to last June, he said tram ridership was 10% behind in both ridership and deployments.

“The fare revenues were a little higher, but those were attributable to the $1 increase that was enacted this season,” he said.

Shearman, however, said ridership was up the first days of July. He noted bus ridership had increased by roughly 1%, with the transportation department reporting 22,000 riders on July 4, while tram ridership and deployment were up 6%.

“For trams, we’re about 6% up the first five days of July, versus the first five days of July last year …,” he said. “With the initial staffing, we’re seeing a return on that already.”

Shearman noted the transportation department was able to deploy more Boardwalk trams in July, as a newly enacted signing bonus had brought with it more staffing. He said the number of drivers had increased from 18 last year to 22 this year.

“You can see the staffing has increased markedly since the last time we spoke, directly as a result of the recently enacted signing bonus,” he said.

Mayor Rick Meehan said it appeared the town’s efforts to hire more drivers and conductors had worked. Shearman said it had.

“Yes, there was an immediate response,” he said.

Councilwoman Carol Proctor asked how often trams were deployed on the Boardwalk. She noted that trams were full on a busy summer night last weekend.

“I noticed people waiting for the next tram to come up,” she said.

Shearman said both buses and trams were deployed in increasing numbers as demand increased throughout the day.

“Unlike a traditional transit system that has a morning peak, a mid-day loll and an afternoon peak, our ridership trends are a never-ending trend up,” he said. “So we staff to that.”

Shearman noted that four trams were deployed at noon, with more being added as the day progressed. Meehan questioned if four trams were needed at mid-day.

“I see them during the day, and they are there, but they are not always full,” he said. “But at night, they are full.”

Transportation officials said four trams were warranted, as seniors tend to ride the trams during the day. They noted, however, that peak ridership occurred between the hours of 4-10 p.m.

“I think four is probably the right number to start with, but we need more in the evenings,” Shearman said. “That’s what we’re shifting our resources to.”

Meehan questioned if the department was deploying trams based on demand or based on driver availability. Shearman said it was both, as some drivers did not want to work evenings.

“With staffing still somewhat scarce, we do have to cater to the staff we have to some extent or lose them,” he said.

He noted, however, that the signing bonus has been effective in securing drivers to work evenings.

“With the signing bonus, we’ve been able to dictate terms a little bit more because we’re dangling this $250 bonus in front of people,” he said, “and we’ve been able to say with a little bit more firmness that these are the hours we need if you want the bonus.”

When asked how many trams the town had, Shearman said eight. However, he said six were generally deployed at night, and one was out of service.

“So we need how many more people to get to seven or eight [trams]?” Council Secretary Tony DeLuca asked.

Officials said the transportation department would like to have 25 drivers and 25 conductors.

“We’re still working toward that,” Shearman said.

DeLuca said salaries would need to be addressed.

“We do have to start talking about salaries for next year to really attack it and have all eight out there at night,” he said.

Officials, however, applauded transportation staff for their efforts in securing more drivers and conductors. Councilman Frank Knight noted that the transportation department was able to secure 22 tram drivers for the summer season.

“That’s up 22% from last year,” he said.

Proctor agreed.

“You’ve made really good progress,” she said.

Meehan said he wanted to be proactive when it came to the Boardwalk trams.

“Everyone has done a great job …,” he said. “Don’t let that get lost in this conversation. We’re just trying to be proactive and help you maximize the potential of the trams.”

Transportation officials this week also provided a report on bus staffing. While the number of bus drivers had decreased from 67 in June 2022 to 45 in September 2022, Shearman said this year’s numbers appear to remain steady, with the number of bus drivers increasing in recent weeks to 68.

“You can see from last year we had a decline in driver staffing throughout the season,” he said. “This year, you can see we are holding steady, with a slight up trend here in the last week. So far, so good.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.