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Worcester County plans trolley service to casino

WEST OCEAN CITY — Worcester County is planning a trolley service to transport visitors, residents and workers to areas outside Ocean City, including to the Casino at Ocean Downs.

Worcester County Tourism Director Lisa Challenger and Tri-County Council/Shore Transit representative Brad Bellacicco recently presented a plan for the trolleys and received the blessing of the Worcester County Commissioners, although no direct funding was approved.

The proposed service would depart from the West Ocean Park & Ride. Destinations would include the casino, downtown Berlin, Ocean Pines, Assateague Island, Frontier Town, Castaways RV Resort and the Francis Scott Key Motel.

Two trolleys would run in opposite directions from West Ocean City to Berlin to Assateague. A full route would take about 90 minutes, depending on summer traffic. The trolleys would run six routes a day, seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Officials hope the rides will be free, but there could be a fare of $1 or more.

“It depends on how much support we get,” Bellacicco said. “This is something we’re adding at the last minute, so we need to find funding to make it work.”

The “trolleys” are actually 30-passenger municipal buses with outer shells that make them look like old-fashioned, rail-driven trolley cars. Challenger believes the dressed-up buses are more attractive to tourists than regular buses.

Shore Transit recently purchased the used trolley buses from the town of Ocean City, which had eight in its bus fleet. The town ran the trolleys as a downtown shuttle between 33rd Street and the Inlet from 2005-2008, but stopped the service for lack of riders, according to Brian Connor, assistant superintendent for transportation for Ocean City.

Connor said he thinks ridership was low because the shuttle was limited to downtown. It did, however, leave the trolleys with low mileage and in great shape.

“The numbers weren’t there,” he said. “But it worked great for people who didn’t want to go north of 33rd Street.”

When the in-town trolley service went belly-up, Ocean City began using the trolleys as a shuttle between the Inlet and the Roland E. Powell Convention Center for special events like Sunfest or the OC Air Show. That lasted until 2010, when the state transferred four of the trolleys to Annapolis.

The trolleys are 90 percent owned by the state of Maryland, which helps many counties fund the purchase of transit vehicles.

Shore Transit will reimburse Ocean City for 10 percent of the trolleys’ cost. That comes to about $7,000 per vehicle, though the town has not set a final figure. Shore Transit will use a special fund set aside for expansion of services to purchase the trolleys.

Shore Transit is willing to take on all the issues of ownership, including maintenance, labor, insurance and the driver, Challenger said.

Locally, the Francis Scott Key Motel and the Castaways Resort run shuttles from their locations to the beach in Ocean City. Both report they are highly successful and transport hundreds of visitors a day.

The total cost to get the trolleys rolling is $140,000. Worcester County Tourism has committed $10,000 and the town of Berlin $5,000 from their draft FY2013/14 budgets.

The Maryland Transit Authority will not provice any financial support for the trolleys in 2013, but Bellacicco said he believes funding could be available down the road, once ridership figures can be supplied.

Shore Transit is planning to raise the remaining $125,000 through sponsorships, ranging from $50,000 for a platinum plan to $5,000 for a bronze plan.

For their dollars, sponsors would receive advertising on the trolleys, their company name on route maps, company logos on the Shore Transit website and at the nearest trolley stop, and coupons for free rides.

Shore Transit, the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and Worcester County Tourism are handling the sponsorships. To put the trolleys on the road for summer 2013, sponsors have to be lined up by May 1. To date, no sponsorships have been sold.

Joe Cavilla, general manager at The Casino at Ocean Downs, confirmed he is considering sponsoring the trolley srvice, but also said the casino may still start its own shuttle service.

“We might do both, actually,” Cavilla said. “I think the way they’re involving the local towns and county and businesses, it’s a great concept. So we’re taking a hard look at it.”