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Ocean City transportation officials are working diligently to hire more bus drivers before the start of the summer season as ridership numbers look to be on par to rival 2019 totals.

Figures for '22 season could rival '19

A rainy, stormy season kick-off weekend has not deterred transportation officials from their optimistic projection that 2022 bus ridership numbers could rival pre-pandemic ones.

“One could make the argument we’re still on par 100 percent with our ridership from three years ago,” Transit Manager Rob Shearman said of the outlook during a Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday.

He reported that the numbers between April 2022 and 2019 were “almost dead even.” And while the first weekend in May came up a little short, which he attributed to the weather, Shearman still expects the totals to come out to close to where they were three years ago.

Public Works Director Hal Adkins said officials tentatively estimated that the season would end with ridership numbers at 80 percent of where they were in 2019, which he chooses as the comparison year because it was the last time the buses ran normally. He said Tuesday he remains confident that they can reach 80 percent.

A significantly reduced fleet ran in 2020 because of the pandemic and 2021 was another rebuilding year, stymied heavily by a scarcity of drivers.

Transportation Operations Manager George Peake said Tuesday that employment numbers are improving, but not yet up to where he would like them to be.

He said he currently has 59 drivers on staff and hopes to reach the goal of 80 by the time the summer gets into full swing.

“That’s still very optimistic to get to that,” he said.”If I can get to the 72, 74 I’ll be happy.”

He added that he has enough bus supervisors and dispatchers, but is still a little low on techs. He said a couple of bus cleaners may also be on the way. In any case, Peake expects to meet the demand with overtime, but does not anticipate having to pay as much as he has the past two years.

And while Peake continues to recruit drivers though a variety of efforts, he has several potential employees in the hopper with school bus drivers who have submitted applications and other individuals awaiting various approvals.

The department is also trying to hire six full-time drivers, which Adkins said he has “mixed emotions” about the process because while applications have been received, they have mostly come from existing part-time drivers.

This story appears in the May 13, 2022 print edition of the OC Today.

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