(April 23, 2021) Financially, Ocean City is prepared if bus and tram ridership inches back up to pre-covid levels this tourist season. But one problem exists: a lack of drivers to haul them around.
During a Transportation Committee meeting last week, Councilman Tony DeLuca said he was “disappointed” that seasonal driver employment numbers were coming up short of the ambitious goal officials set several months ago.
“Our whole goal was 155; we said that 110 seemed reasonable …” DeLuca said of the bus driver numbers. “We find out April 14 that we’re 36 bus drivers short, 12 tram drivers short.”
Public Works Director Hal Adkins said later that the numbers are not quite as grim as they may seem given that bus ridership is not expected to jump that much because of lingering covid-19 concerns. He said the resort has 56 bus drivers and likely will only need 60 with the distancing protocols still in place and the leeriness of riders to board buses.
“Hopefully, covid restrictions get incrementally loosened and if we ever get to the point in June or July, for example [if[ masks become voluntary, I still feel that the typical individual is going to be slightly guarded when it comes to their desire to board a bus,” he said.
Adkins added that drivers and conductors for Boardwalk trams, which did not run at all last year, are also coming up about 50 percent short of the 24 needed for each.
“Age 60 to 80 would be a good profile of our drivers,” he said. “Someone’s who’s retired and looking for something to fill their day. They don’t financially need the money and now, with what has occurred in the last 12 to 18 months with covid-related issues, that’s where our challenges have been.”
Adkins said officials have held job fairs, reached out via the internet and employment websites, and used electronic messaging to recruit drivers with little to no success.
Members of the commission also pointed out that the current unemployment benefits, which they said can equal around $588 a week for some individuals, and the hourly wage the city offers for drivers, may also be creating recruitment challenges.
According to the town’s website, the wage for a seasonal, part-time bus driver, who must be 20 years old and possess a valid CDL Class B license and clean driving record, is $15.60 an hour.
Tram drivers must be 19 with the same credentials to make $12.65 an hour.
The hourly rate for tram conductors is $11.75. They must also be 19 but do not need any of the license requirements, as they do not physically operate the vehicles.
Adkins said he would like to bump up the pay scale, as the department is in a healthy financial place, but he is concerned about the feasibility.
“I’d love to do that, increase the hourly wage, but I have no idea what the ripple effect would be in the Beach Patrols and [public safety aides], if one would have concern for internal equity,” he said. “I just don’t see it being able to happen. I don’t see us being able to react that way.”
In any case, he does not expect to need any funding help from the city for the department this year thanks to grants from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act and Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations, or CRRSA, Act.
“Funding is available if we choose or see indicators that we should ramp up our deployments … if we see comfort come back to the users. It will not need a budget amendment,” Adkins said.
“The funding is already going to be in the FY 22 budget to address the first quarter. It would just be an issue of do we adjust, or do we find there’s not a lot of people getting comfortable getting back on the system?”
As of now, health guidelines for riding buses and trams include mask requirements for drivers and passengers, both while riding and at boarding stops. Buses and trams have physical distancing requirements and sanitizer on hand. Standees are currently not permitted on buses.
To learn more about working as a bus driver or tram operator or conductor, or to fill out an application, visit the city’s website at https://oceancitymd.gov/oc/.