OCEAN CITY — Though a possible $10,000 in financial support will have to wait until a budget is adopted in June, the Worcester County Commissioners told Tourism Director Lisa Challenger this week that a new tourist trolley program has their unofficial “blessing” and has a lot of potential.
The proposal for the trolley program comes from the Tri-County Council, which represents Worcester, Wicomico, and Somerset counties, and “would transport visitors between West Ocean City, Assateague, Ocean Pines and points in between such as the Ocean Downs Casino,” according to a memo from Challenger. The trolleys themselves are actually Town of Ocean City busses with shells designed to look like old-fashioned trolleys.
Annual costs for the trolley program are estimated at $140,000. Worcester is being asked to contribute $10,000 toward that.
“We’re asking the county to contribute just a small pittance of what they’re really going to need,” said Challenger.
Brad Bellacicco, a representative of the Tri-County Council, detailed what his organization would like to see the trolley program turn into eventually.
“The concept would be two buses running on opposing routes,” he told the commissioners.
Those trolleys would make six runs each per day between 10 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day. Routes would begin and end at the West Ocean City Park and Ride with potential stops at the West Ocean City Harbor, the casino at Ocean Downs, an Ocean Pines swimming pool, downtown Berlin, Assateague State Park, Frontier Town, Castaways RV Resort and the Francis Scott Key Motel.
“We are hoping to be able to allow them to step on for free at any point and these buses would circulate and the people could come and go,” Challenger said. “We do believe that when you have the ability to move people around from place-to-place they do spend more money.”
While the idea of public transport to boost business in the county is appealing, noted Commissioner Louise Gulyas, having free public transport would require extensive support funding.
“Free is not realistic,” she told Challenger, adding that even a nominal fee such as a dollar or two dollars per trip might be sufficient.
Challenger agreed but said the goal is still to make it as inexpensive as possible. Doing so would require private partnerships, she admitted, but the trolley program is already exploring advertising deals that could produce the funds needed.
So far four “partnerships” are being offered to area businesses: Platinum at $50,000, Gold at $20,000, Silver at $10,000, and Bronze at $5,000. All four would include advertising opportunities and promotion of the contributing partner’s name and logo, as well as a varied amount of coupons for free rides on the trolley, assuming it isn’t free to begin with.
The trolley program currently has the support of both the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Berlin, and Challenger told the commission that her office is “hoping other businesses [are] willing to step on board.”
“The funding would need to be provided by local businesses and governments who would be benefiting from such a service,” according to a memo from the Tri-County Council. “Charging a fare could help cover part of the costs. Sponsorships are critical to launching this route.”
The commission by and large showed support for the trolley program. However, because the $10,000 is mentioned in Challenger’s upcoming tourism budget, the commissioners held off on an official vote until it can be discussed at an approaching Fiscal Year 2014 budget work session.
“You have our blessing,” said Commission President Bud Church. “We’d like to see it work.”