A new tram system is scheduled to begin shuttling passengers up and down Atlantic City’s Boardwalk starting February 1, likely eliminating most of the iconic rolling chairs still in operation.
Atlantic City’s B&B Parking Inc., which operates parking lots throughout the city and which won the tram contract, will pay the city a minimum of $126,000 per year for two years to operate five new trams. Tim Boland, the vice president of B&B and the son of company president Teresa Boland, said he estimates the payment to be about 10 percent of gross annual revenues.
Each tram can seat as many as 15 passengers, Boland said, and will be operated by a driver and conductor. Boland said the company will hire about 20 employees, with two teams staffing two shifts per day. B&B had already received about 20 applications from drivers by Monday afternoon, Boland said.
The trams will run from 10 a.m. until around 2 a.m., Boland said. The route will vary depending on economic developments, but will initially span from the Garden Pier to N. Albany Avenue, he said.
The trams are electric, and Boland said solar panels may be added to them, extending their existing 15 hours of battery life. Boland said he would like the city to change its ordinances, allowing for a new pricing scheme of $4 per trip, or $10 for an all-day pass.
During the summer, Boland said B&B plans to use one tram as a tour vehicle on Saturday afternoons and evenings, providing historical tours of the Boardwalk’s sites with the help of an in-tram DVD player.
The trams would have been rolled out already if not for an ongoing lawsuit targeting the company, Boland said. In September, the Brigantine-based JJJN LLC, which was the runner-up during the contract bidding process, filed suit in Atlantic County Superior Court, alleging B&B’s bid violated existing city ordinances, according to JJJN attorney Samuel Lashman.
The city code currently stipulates that trams must carry a minimum of 18 passengers, beyond the capacity of the ones B&B bought. Lashman said the suit is seeking to void the contract.
Dale Finch, Atlantic City’s director of licensing and inspection, said Monday that the city’s specifications for the tram contract called for 15-passenger trams, which all the bidders used as the basis of their offers.
“As the director, I have the authority to devise the specifications that we feel are in the best interest of the city,” Finch said. “We had meetings internally at that time - the city engineer, the director of planning, and myself. We discussed vehicle sizes, and we felt it was in the best interest (of the city) to have smaller vehicles than what was in the ordinance, for safety and maintenance reasons.”
Finch said the city code empowered him to set the terms of the contract, but wouldn’t comment further on the case, which is ongoing. City attorney Irv Jacoby, who is also Atlantic City’s deputy city solicitor, did not immediately return a call for comment.
Boland described the suit as “sour grapes” and said he was confident it wouldn’t impact the trams’ launch date.
In anticipation of that day, the city is assessing how many rolling chairs to permit on the Boardwalk, Finch said. It will be one of many expected transportation-related ordinance changes proposed by outside consultant Matthew W. Daus. Finch said the proposals could be put before the city council by early February.
Bill Boland, the president of Royal Rolling Chairs, and Tim Boland’s father, said he thought the number of licensed chairs could drop from their current level of 305 to about 50.
Boland said his chairs have been losing money since 2010, and that many pushers are currently struggling to make back the $25 they pay each week in rental fees.
“I think they definitely have a place on that Boardwalk,” Boland said, but added that the market is saturated. Pushers should be hourly employees paid directly by the companies they rent chairs from, Boland said. Uniforms should be required, he said, and regulations should be tightened and enforced.
Boland said he would like chair pushers to be able to make around $75 or $80 a day, which they could if reforms were adopted.
“I want it to be a good job for somebody,” he said.
On the Boardwalk Monday, Ron Sneider, 24, said he rents a chair for $35 a week during the off season, compared to about $125 in the summer. Sneider said business is slow, and that he is currently collecting welfare benefits while struggling to pay his rent.
However, he said that during the summer, pushers can make between $800 and $1,300 a week if they work 10 or 12 hours a day.
Sneider said a reduction in the number of chairs would reduce competition and help the pushers’ bottom line.
“In the summer, that would be fantastic,” he said.
Another chair pusher, Tony Green, 45, disagreed, saying that the trams would take away business on balance, especially during the busy season.
But Cynthia Webb, 51, said she paid for an associates degree at Atlantic Cape Community College by pushing chairs.
Webb said it was “stupid” for the city to reduce the number of chairs on the Boardwalk, noting the business’ longstanding tradition.
She said, however, that it was ultimately up to chair pushers to determine how much money they could make.
“It takes personality, the gift of gab, to get the money,” Webb said energetically. “Everybody that comes to Atlantic City, it’s their job to tell me they don’t have money, and it’s my job to get it.”
Webb said she’s planning on moving to Atlanta, where she’ll put her newly acquired psychology degree to use.
“I am happy,” she said of her time on the Boardwalk. “It has done me well, and I am rolling out.”
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