By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
All aboard! Not a train, but a jitney. For just two bucks, no less.
Ocean City will introduce new jitney service this summer that will offer two routes serving the Boardwalk and the Asbury Avenue downtown shopping district.
Mayor Jay Gillian and officials of his administration announced during a City Council meeting Thursday night that the fare will be $2.
Council is expected to award a contract during its May 12 meeting to a company that will provide jitney service.
Dan Kelchner, the city’s director of Community Services, said the Boardwalk route is scheduled to begin May 27 and run through Sept. 5. The downtown route will operate from June 14 to Aug. 25.
Kelchner emphasized that the jitney service is a pilot program that will give the city flexibility to make adjustments based on ridership, special events in town and even weather conditions.
The route serving the Boardwalk will start at 55th Street and West Avenue. It will run along West Avenue to 14th Street, switch over to 14th and Ocean Avenue, then to Ninth Street and Ocean, then Ninth and Atlantic Avenue and then finish at Sixth Street and Atlantic. The jitneys will turn around on the block of Sixth Street and reverse the route back to 55th Street.
The Boardwalk route will operate seven days a week, from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
For the downtown service, jitneys will run along Asbury Avenue between 55th Street and Battersea Road. Days of operation will be Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The impetus for the new jitney service was a 2019 economic development study that recommended more public transportation in Ocean City, Kelchner explained.
The benefits for jitney riders include low cost, convenient transportation that will relieve them of the hassle of trying to find public parking during the busy summer tourism season.
Councilwoman Karen Bergman said she met with local business owners and they agreed that jitney service would be one way to address the parking challenges during the summer.
Also at Thursday’s Council meeting, Gillian reported that the city is planning to install a new sound barrier and make other improvements at the municipal pickleball courts at 18th Street and Haven Avenue.
In previous Council meetings, residents living near the courts have complained about the annoying sound of plastic pickleballs being struck by the pickleball paddles.
The city already has installed a pickleball sound barrier, known as an Acoustifence, on half of the site. The same company that supplied that sound barrier will provide another Acoustifence for the rest of the site under a $22,750 contract with the city.
The new acoustic barrier will “improve the overall efforts to mitigate the sound of play from the court area,” according to a city memo attached to the Council meeting agenda.
Gillian said the city also plans to resurface the pickleball courts, upgrade the public restrooms and conduct a traffic safety study of the area.
The pickleball courts are located in a busy area next to the Ocean City Intermediate School and the Ocean City Community Center.
Gregg Balin, a local resident and pickleball advocate, criticized the city for not paying enough attention to the condition of the courts. Balin said other communities have nicer pickleball courts in comparison.
Balin was also critical of Gillian during public comments to Council. He asserted that Gillian had wasted money and time while considering the possibility of building new pickleball courts at 34th Street instead of concentrating on improving or expanding the courts at 18th Street. Gillian listened to Balin’s comments, but did not respond.
In another matter at the Council meeting, there was more public debate over suspicions that the mayor’s business partner, Eustace Mita, may have plans to build a high-rise hotel at Wonderland Pier, the Boardwalk amusement park owned by Gillian’s family. Mita, who owns the Icona luxury resort properties in Cape May County, invested in Wonderland last year after Gillian encountered financial difficulties.
Gillian issued a statement earlier this month stating his strong opposition to high-rise construction on the Boardwalk, especially if a hotel also included a liquor license.
However, the issue has become a campaign controversy in the May 10 mayoral election between Gillian and City Councilman Keith Hartzell. As part of his campaign, Hartzell has said he is adamantly opposed to high-rise hotels on the Boardwalk. He also questioned why Gillian attended a meeting in February during which Mita reportedly made a presentation to Boardwalk property owners about his desire to build a hotel somewhere in Ocean City.
Councilman Tom Rotondi said he fears that the Boardwalk’s family-friendly atmosphere will be harmed if Wonderland is redeveloped for a hotel. At Thursday’s meeting, he said Council should look into the issue further.
“The city needs to protect that Boardwalk because it’s the goose that laid the golden egg,” Rotondi said.
City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson told Council that Ocean City’s zoning laws prohibit hotels on the Boardwalk and also do not allow high-rise construction anywhere in town. McCrosson noted that it would require Council’s approval to change the laws to allow Boardwalk hotels and high-rise construction.
Councilwoman Bergman said she strongly opposes the idea of building hotels on the Boardwalk and believes there is no support in the community for Boardwalk hotels, either.
“There is strong distaste for building hotels in this town,” Bergman said.
Some have suggested that a hotel containing more than 100 rooms would be a “pathway” for a liquor license in Ocean City under New Jersey law. Bergman also shot down that idea.
“That is not the temperament of this town,” she said of the possibility of an Ocean City hotel having a liquor license.
Ocean City’s reputation as a “dry” town allowing no alcohol sales is a major part of its public image as “America’s Greatest Family Resort.”