OCEAN CITY — That extra hour to ride a bike on the Boardwalk appears to have made a huge impact for not only the bike rental businesses, but also for the riders.
Creating too much congestion on an already busy Boardwalk was the main tripping point for a few members of the City Council in April, but they eventually decided to grant a one-hour extension until 11 a.m. during the week for people to ride and rent bikes this summer.
The reaction and results of the council’s decision seems to be nothing but positive as the season comes to a close.
“The response has been overwhelming from the customers who were just so pleased to have that extra hour out there to ride around,” said Wobbly Wheel Bike Rental owner Danny Dobson. “It was so much more relaxed this year and the police did a fantastic job at being very discretionary and helpful to the riders.”
Bike rental business owners were expected to get a slight shot in the arm as far as profits go as a result of the change, but according to Don Enste, owner of Dandy Don’s bike rental, it was much more significant.
“To be honest with you, without that extra hour, I might have lost my ass this summer,” said Enste, “but we watched it all summer long, and it actually dispersed the traffic a little better rather than create more and I received absolutely no negative comments from anyone about the change.”
Enste said that the general consensus from his bike rental colleagues and competitors is one of sheer gratitude towards the council’s decision, and he said that when he goes back to City Hall in the spring to revisit the decision, he hopes to make it a seven-day-a-week change.
“I would hope that they would consider extending it to 11 a.m. seven days a week just to make it more uniform and easy for people to remember,” said Enste. “That was the only thing that customers told me that they would have liked to see differently.”
Unfortunately for Enste and the bike rental businesses, the council was reluctant to delay the start of the Boardwalk tram that extra hour on the weekends as it brought in $25,000 from 10-11 a.m. over the course of the summer last year, according to town financial records.
Council President Joe Mitrecic said that he couldn’t “just throw away $25,000” in a year that saw the council make huge departmental and spending cuts during the budget process. As next year’s budget appears to be seemingly just as tight, whatever revenue the tram creates in that hour on the weekends, might just keep the change as is.
Still, some of the Boardwalk merchants think that number might be a bit skewed after watching the tram pass by every single morning this summer.
“If you watch it, as I have, and you do the simple math, you would have to have hundreds of people a day during that hour to create that amount of revenue over the course of the summer, and I just didn’t see it this year,” said Dobson. “I would love to see it go to 11 a.m. on the weekends, but if it stays the same, I’d be okay with that, too.”
Mayor Rick Meehan, who is an almost daily bike rider on the Boardwalk, said he heard nothing but positive comments as a result of the change, but he hinted he might be reluctant to see any additional extensions of rider hours, especially on weekends.
“In July and August, it’s like a highway up there on the Boardwalk, and you have to do defensive driving sometimes,” said Meehan. “With that said, I think the change was the right one, and maybe should stay as is for next year, but I am just not too sure about extending it an hour on the weekends, but we’ll certainly have a discussion about it.”
Enste also noted that the other merchants on the Boardwalk saw an increase in sales during that extra hour during the week. He said the spike in sales indicates the extension was good for more than just bike rental shops and their customers. He said he was contemplating asking the council to even allow bikers to stay on the boards until noon.
“I’m going to take a shot and hope that they will consider extending it a bit further for us and for the people who enjoy riding bikes on the Boardwalk,” said Enste. “I guess the worst thing that the council can say is no.”
According to the town ordinance, bikers are allowed after the Labor Day weekend to ride on the Boardwalk until noon through Sept. 30, although those rules are commonly loosened depending on foot traffic along the promenade. There are no restrictions from the first of October through April 30, 2010.