(July 24, 2020) There will be no express shuttle services this year for either the White Marlin Open (WMO) or the OC Air Show, because of what the Ocean City Council views as dwindling need as well as social gathering/crowding concerns.
The billfish tournament will take place from Aug. 3-7, and the air show is scheduled for Aug. 15 and 16.
The shuttles would have transported White Marlin Open weigh-in spectators to a Third Street viewing area, and OC Air Show spectators to 17th Street.
“We are operating at historically low deployments because of covid-19 right now,” Public Works Director Hal Adkins said at Monday’s City Council meeting. “If I carry 20,000 people on a normal day, I’m carrying about 3,500 a day this summer. That’s how drastic that change is,” although this was the goal under Gov. Larry Hogan’s travel restrictions.
Adkins sent an email to the mayor and City Council with a list of factors they should consider when making the final decision — stressing he did not want to sway it, but simply present the facts.
One of the factors from that list was the shuttles’ historically low ridership.
“In review of the stats, please note that the ridership stats for the WMO, to 14th Street, were ‘less than impressive’ over four of the proceeding five years with only last year seeing a spike numbers. We, in DPW (Department of Public Works), call that ‘the Michael Jordan Effect,’” Adkins said in his email. Jordan fished last year’s tournament.
At the meeting, Adkins said aside from the spike associated with the basketball legend’s rumored presence, the low ridership had the department questioning the need for the shuttle regardless of covid-19 concerns.
“We brought it up because of the unusual times we are currently operating in, and whether you wished us to deploy express routes, express routes that some may then communicate and equate with crowded, condensed ridership,” Adkins said.
Council members seemed more willing to grant the shuttle to the White Marlin Open than the OC Air Show, but overall believed that current bus deployments should be enough.
Adkins added, “The visitor, not us, has chosen not to use mass transit. They’ve chosen to stay in their vehicle. We have yet to get a complaint from someone that we haven’t deployed enough buses.”
Adkins said other parking lots would be available in the Third Street area as well, such as the Fourth Street lot, City Hall lot, after certain hours, or parking in the St. Louis Avenue corridor.
“There may be an opportunity there for it to be a drive-to destination,” he said.
If shuttle service were to be approved, Adkins said, he wanted to prohibit standing passengers and to require social distancing.
“The more buses we run in an effort to maintain social distancing and in an effort to eliminate standees, the more financial exposure you will experience, because I’m basically carrying air,” Adkins said.
When asked by Councilman John Gehrig whether the shuttle could operate during the Open’s 5-8 p.m. peak period, Adkins said that it could.
“The challenge with White Marlin Open is that people are used to going to 14th Street (Harbour Island),” Gehrig said. “I don’t know how many people are going to ride the shuttle, but at least the people who are riding the shuttle aren’t going to 14th Street.”
The Open’s Harbour Island weigh-in station has been the go-to viewing location, but event owner and co-director Madelyne Rowan previously told the council that the location’s attendance would be severely reduce, prompting concerns about travel confusion and unintentional overcrowding.
On Wednesday, White Marlin Open officials announced on Facebook that Harbour Island would be closed to the general public:
“Due to circumstances beyond our control, we have been forced to move all public weigh-in viewing to our new Third Street Ballpark location. The large amount of space at the park will allow for proper social distancing and a more enjoyable experience for our spectators. Unfortunately, the general public will not be permitted access to Harbour Island during weigh-ins this year. Although we worked with state and local officials for months to create a responsible covid-19 business plan, this battle has become insurmountable.”
As for the air show, Event Manager Steven Webster said on Monday the shuttle has been used to transport performers’ friends and family, VIP guests, vendors and other stakeholders.
“It wasn’t necessarily [a] public option,” Webster said, and added that show runners were fine with whatever the council decided, as all they wanted to do was keep participants informed.
Council President Lloyd Martin said the shuttles were not needed, with the rest of the council concurring. A vote was deemed unnecessary.
The council did vote to approve a request to reserve eight parking spaces on the corner of Third Street and St. Louis Avenue, as well as to close Chicago Avenue between Third and Fourth streets for the White Marlin Open.