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Ocean City

“Morale is Low:” Council Votes to Increase Bus Driver Pay

Beach Bus
Town of Ocean City

By Logan Dubel

Ocean City bus drivers will now receive a significant bump in their pay rate following a vote by the City Council Tuesday night. The vote comes amidst challenges for the resort’s transportation department and low morale amongst drivers.

Proposed by Councilman Frank Knight, the measure will increase pay for bus drivers from $17.75 per hour to $20.49 per hour through the end of Sunfest on October 23.

“Drivers are overworked, and it has been a rough summer already,” Knight explained before the council. “We are being beaten across the tri-state region, and we need to boost morale for our drivers.”

So far in the summer of 2022, deployments and ridership are down significantly compared to 2019, the most recent “normal” year in the resort. May 2022 deployments were 75% of May 2019 deployments and early June 2022 bus deployments were 50% of June 2019 deployments. Overall, 2022 ridership is 67% of 2019 ridership. Notably, there are currently six articulating buses running, with two in the shop for repairs. Getting those buses back on the streets soon could make a difference.

Councilmembers noted that with just 67 bus drivers, deployments have dropped, and many people are left behind at bus stops. Initially, City Hall hoped to recruit up to 80 drivers but came up somewhat short, and even in 2019, there were a whopping 120 available drivers. While buses attempt to make stops every 15 minutes, the strain on the transportation system has forced those stops to become less frequent. Families have reported seeing three or four buses pass by before they are finally able to hop aboard.

When reviewing this data last week, Public Works Director Hal Adkins and Mayor Rick Meehan noted that a re-evaluation of wages may be necessary if white lining continues due to staffing. Just a few days later, the council has sprung into action.

Councilman Mark Paddack voiced his support for the pay increase and thanked City Manager Terry McGean and others for moving quickly.

“I personally don’t like seeing families waiting on the side of Coastal Highway waiting for a bus, and we are getting close to July, and more families are coming,” Paddack said. “We need to help get those families moving on the buses.”

The increase will also apply to supervisors and solid waste drivers in varying amounts.

The raise comes at a great cost for the town, totaling over $189,000. However, leaders believe that the pay increase is necessary to not only retain current staff but potentially attract additional new drivers. Still, City Hall will not exceed its budget even with the added compensation.

The raise will make the resort more competitive with the DART transit service, which has poached four Ocean City drivers so far with an attractive $3,000 signing bonus and a $20 hourly rate.

The final council vote was unanimous, with members John Gehrig and Lloyd Martin absent.

Boardwalk TramWhile the driver shortage is impacting the buses, the problem is even greater on the Boardwalk Trams. The town currently has 18 drivers and 18 conductors, totaling 36 employees, short of the desired 50. Ridership data is not available yet for the summer so far on the trams, though deployments are down and there is high turnover with drivers.

Nonetheless, demand for both the buses and trams will likely increase as the peak summer season draws closer, and the council hopes that the pay raise will make a positive difference in the resort’s transportation system.

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