ATLANTIC CITY — City Council is likely to consider extending a contract with the operator of the Boardwalk tram car at its next public meeting, but the seemingly mundane action could draw some resistance.
Boardwalk merchants, rolling chair operators and taxi drivers have all voiced concern over how they believe the tram car has negatively impacted their respective businesses and want the city’s governing body to reconsider. The owner of the tram car company said he was unaware of the concerns and wants to work with the merchants and transportation employees to find an amicable solution.
Amer Kashmiri, president of the recently formed Atlantic City Merchants Association, said businesses on the Boardwalk have been suffering since the tram cars started nearly five years ago. Kashmiri, who operates AC Souvenirs, said that the group consists of nearly 40 merchants and they all want City Council to resist renewing the tram’s contract.
“We do not want trams on the Boardwalk,” Zashmiri said. “We lose potential customers every time it goes by.”
Tim Boland, general manager of Park Place Parking, operates the Boardwalk tram car service and said no one has contacted him about their concerns. The company has an existing three-year contract with the city with multiple one-year options for renewal. The deadline for one of the renewal options is May 1.
Last year, the city’s deal with Boland’s company netted nearly $500,000 for the cash-strapped municipality.
“The tram cars are a tremendous asset to the Boardwalk,” Boland said. “Some of our customers say this is the best thing Atlantic City has ever done.”
Boland said he is open and willing to work with the Boardwalk merchants to find ways that help everyone. He noted that the tram stops “anywhere on the Boardwalk,” and that some of the attendants take it upon themselves to actively promote businesses.
But it’s not just brick-and-mortar businesses that say they are feeling the impact of the trams.
Muhammed Islam said he used to make about $100 per day in the summer from pushing a rolling chair. Since the tram car was put on the Boardwalk, Islam said he now makes “a lot less.”
“They are not only killing our business, but they are hurting everyone here,” he said. “No one makes any money since they came.”
Md Ahmed drives a taxi in Atlantic City said he wants City Council to “stand up” for them, too.
“We are losing customers day by day,” he said. “If there is no tram on the Boardwalk, we will get more customers. People come here to gamble and (have a) fun time, so they like to use a taxi to go from one casino to another.”
Council President George Tibbitt said he and other members of City Council are aware of the concerns from the merchants and transit operators. He said the governing body was still gathering information and no decision has been made yet as to whether the contract extension will be voted on next week.
“People love the tram car,” Tibbitt said. “But we understand the merchants’ concerns. We have to figure out what the trams can do so everyone can co-exist.”
Kashmiri said that besides the potential loss of business, he believes the tram car is contributing to the damage on the Boardwalk. He said he sees “people tripping everyday,” from boards that have popped up since the tram started.
Tibbitt said he does not think the trams are the only reason the Boardwalk’s condition is deteriorating. Tibbitt noted that Ocean City’s Boardwalk is comprised almost entirely of a different type of wood and does not have the same problems.
The council president also referenced the Wildwood Boardwalk, which has concrete in the middle where the trams operate. Tibbitt said that doing something similar in Atlantic City would require significant capital investment and the city would need additional funds to do it. He said that if the state allowed the city to keep portions of certain taxes and fees, such as rooming, parking and luxury, then Atlantic City may be able to upgrade its own Boardwalk and allow the trams and merchants to both succeed.
City Council is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Wednesday on the second floor of City Hall.