(Nov. 16, 2018) Following a review of bus and tram ridership numbers Tuesday, the Ocean City Council’s Transportation Committee examined its driver recruitment efforts for next year.
In the system review portion of the session, Transit Manager Mark Rickards said bus ridership was flat this October, with 262 fewer passengers than the same month last year.
“We had some good weekends, but we had a nor’easter on the last weekend which put us in the down column,” he said. “Right now, we stand for the year about four percent down.”
While precipitation, or the threat in some cases, negatively affected ridership counts during spring and early summer, Rickards said the trend was reversed during July and August.
Shifting to recruitment efforts, Rickards said the city has mailed letters inviting previous employees to apply for 2019.
“We still have 73 drivers and supervisors [and] we have 43 others that are out of the system but indicated they may come back,” he said. “We have a strong base that’s almost 120 some drivers to start with next year.”
Rickards said the Transportation Department would advertise for the next half year to attract an additional 30 drivers.
“We will do our normal outreach to technical schools and local colleges,” he said.
Regardless of other efforts, Rickards said word of mouth from current drivers tends to be the strongest recruiting tool.
“Morale is up, and they spread the word to their friends and neighbors,” he said.
Rickards also said the crucial metric to examine is budgeted hours not staffing totals.
“For budgeting purposes, I’m looking at about 117,660 hours that we need on an annual basis for our drivers and supervisors,” he said. “You break that down for 150 drivers it comes to about 800 hours pre-driver.”
Full-time transit employees typically work 2,000 hours, while part-timers vary between 800-1,000 hours, Rickards said.
“We have some drivers, like the school bus drivers — they may only work 300-500 hours,” he said.
Turning to tram operations, Rickards said the intent is to match last year’s staffing levels, which was 23 drivers and an equal number of conductors, to cover just over 30,000 budgeted hours.
“It’s important at the beginning of the year that we have a little bit of cushion because we’re always going to have some turnover,” he said.
The city will hold the first of half dozen week-long driver training classes starting in January, Rickards said.
“Training modules will focus on safety, but also hospitality and policies aimed at keeping our drivers and improving their morale,” he said. “It’s difficult to do with so many folks in such a short season … before you know it it’s August.”
Public Works Director Hal Adkins said while annual staffing levels vary based on availability, the objective is to be within the budgeted number of personnel hours.
“It all depends on the number of hours that the individual applying for the job is willing and able to work,” he said.
Meehan suggested the town contact the local AARP chapter, which now offers memberships starting at 50 years old.
“You’re taking about those who are still active in our community and maybe sometimes early retirees,” he said. “I recruited a couple of my friends that are retired to become bus drivers.”