Rolling Chair operator Mamadi Camara, of Atlantic City, moves one of the new Royal white-and-red rolling chairs at the Atlantic City Boardwalk at New York Avenue. 

Ben Fogletto

Visitors to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk will easily be able to pick out rolling chairs from the Royal Rolling Chair company.

Owner Bill Boland has redone about half of his fleet, using white wicker and striking red seats with red-and-white striped roofs. It’s part of an effort to make changes in how his chair operators do business.

Ten of the new chairs made their debut on the Boardwalk on Saturday night. Boland said the rest will gradually be introduced as demand for rides increases.

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One of Boland’s workers rolled out the new chair on the stage at the Metropolitan Business & Citizens Association meeting Monday at Resorts. The worker, wearing a red jacket and black pants, was outfitted in what will be the company’s cool-weather uniform. During warm weather, Royal’s operators will wear red polo shirts with black pants and white sneakers, Boland said.

“We think that new chairs and a new commitment on the part of chair operators to be attentive to tourists, to be helpful, to be dressed appropriately, (is something) we all can feel better about. It’s part and parcel of making the (Atlantic City Tourism) District work,” Casino Reinvestment and Development Authority Executive Director John Palmieri said.

The new look and standards for Royal’s workers fit with CRDA planning consultants’ suggestions to improve rolling chair design and equipment.

Rolling chair operators traditionally have been independent contractors with little oversight; they have been the subject of complaints regarding appearances and attitudes.

Boland is combating that image by making his chair operators employees, not contractors. Initially Boland was planning to pay his workers a set wage, but said he recently decided to make the chair operators work as more of a commissioned employee.

Rolling chair pushers have traditionally handled acquiring their $75 city operator’s license on their own.

Each company also has to have a license for each chair it owns and rents: $100 per license for the first 25 chairs; after that, it’s $50 per chair, city code states.

“The key to the whole success is they have to make a lot of money,” Boland said Monday. “We want them to actually be salesmen for the chairs, ambassadors of the chairs.”

Boland spent more than $2,000 per chair on the renovation. His company redid 50 of the chairs, about half of Royal’s fleet. Boland said he plans to fix up the rest of the chairs as soon as demand for rides increases. A brand new chair costs about $4,000, Boland said.

During the winter, workers carefully dismantled the chairs, stripped the lacquer off the wicker and repainted it gleaming white. The old seats were replaced with new red ones; new plastic red-and-white striped canopies were placed on top. Large LED screens sit on the front of the chair, displaying Royal’s logo. Boland said the plan was to install solar generators on the carts to power the screens, but he won’t spend the money for that retrofit unless he can secure advertisers that want images emblazoned on the screens.

In addition to being licensed by the city, chair operators working for Royal must undergo three interviews, drug screening and background checks to be hired, Boland said.

Next week, City Council will vote on new guidelines that would require license applicants to pass a drug test and background check, said Anthony Cox, city director of licensing and inspections, Monday.

“I think that’s going to have a dramatic effect on the behavior and effect on persons up there operating rolling chairs,” Cox said Monday.

Cox wants the new system in place by May 1, when license renewals start. City Council meets next April 4, and must vote twice to pass the new ordinance before it’s officially approved.

Limousine and taxicab operators already must clear background checks before they get a license to operate in Atlantic City, Cox said.

If rolling chair operators licensed during 2011 fail their drug screen when they try to renew for 2012, they will have the option to attend a treatment program and, upon completion, operate for a probationary period, Cox said.

“New licensees would have to pass on the first go,” he said.

Cox led a push to toughen up laws for rolling chair operators during fall 2010 before the Tourism District Master Plan was commissioned, hoping to address complaints about crowding and risky operation on the Boardwalk.

That effort was abandoned when Boland’s competitor, John Tamainglo, owner of Ocean Rolling Chairs, filed a lawsuit over a rule change that limited the number of licenses one company can hold to 150 and the number issued citywide to 305.

When officials instituted that rule, Boland already had 196 licenses, which were grandfathered.

That sparked Tamainglo’s lawsuit, which is still pending.

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