ROCK HALL — Full-time residents and business owners gathered in the municipal building on Monday night for a “conversation meeting” to discuss potential transportation options following the cancelation of Rock Hall’s trams in their previous form.
The meeting was led by Mayor Dawn Jacobs with Vice Mayor Beth Andrews, Town Manager Bob Resele and Acting Police Chief Bill Dempsey in attendance. Kent County Director of Economic Development Jamie Williams and Assistant Director Emily McCoy and Executive Director of United Way of Kent County Beth Everett also attended.
Achieving her goal of keeping the meeting time under two hours, Jacobs offered information on what types of transportation solutions the town is looking into purchasing, what requirements those options must meet and how to fund any purchases. The community in the standing room-only meeting was then allowed to ask questions and provide suggestions.
Starting in 2014 and ending last summer, seasonal public transportation was supplied by two trams pulled by town-owned Jeeps. The trams were also used during festivals like FallFest in October. However, Dempsey said the trams posed a safety risk as they were never designed to be used on roads. He said they were meant to be used as people movers on boardwalks or at amusement parks.
Jacobs said following her and Resele’s research into options that might work for the town, they determined a few factors that must be met for the town to make a purchase. Those include seating 14 passengers or less as anymore seats would require the driver to have a Commercial Driver’s License, that the vehicle be powered by gasoline and be handicapped accessible. The town must be able to purchase at least two vehicles and they must be available for use before Memorial Day.
By selling the town’s Jeeps, Jacobs said they could earn as much as $27,000 that could be put toward the purchase of a new transportation option. By trading in the Jeeps, she said the amount would be lowered to $23,000.
While Jacobs presented options similar to the previous trams, she said that is not necessarily viable because any vehicles need to be “road legal.” Smaller “open air” trams can only reach speeds of 15 miles per hour, making them illegal on highways like state Route 20 through town. Those trams carry a cost of about $18,500, however they are not handicapped accessible.
The next option presented was a “Safari Tram” or a truck with a modified bed meant to carry people. Jacobs said this option can carry up to 16 people and is handicapped accessible with a chairlift. The cost jumps to about $100,400. Additionally, Jacobs said she is leaning away from purchasing a used vehicle at $27,000 as to not “inherit other people’s problems.”
Jacobs said her “ideal” option is a “mini trolley,” which she called the “Cadillac of trolleys.” The mini trolley is essentially a shuttle bus made to look like an antique trolley. Jacobs said the bus can carry 14 passengers, runs on gas and is handicapped accessible. The mini trolley carries a larger price tag of $112,000 new. The trolley also would be custom built.
The final option Jacobs presented is a shuttle bus, similar to what Delmarva Community Transit uses to provide public transportation on the Mid-Shore. The buses can carry 12 passengers, are powered by gasoline and are handicapped accessible. Those have a price tag of $55,000 to $60,000. Used drops the price to $35,000 to $40,000.
Jacobs said the town needs at least two vehicles in order to be in full service to the community during the summer season.
Following Jacobs’ presentation, the audience began a discussion of how transportation can best serve the community — whether that be the purchase of two shuttle bus or purchasing one shuttle bus, for example, and a smaller electric tram that would only serve the downtown Main Street area.
One of the frequently discussed issues was how best to serve the town’s outlying areas like the Bay Shore Campground and Haven Harbour South marina, which was previously served by the trams with the exception of last summer. The council removed service on those routes because the roads were deemed too rough on the tram and led to safety risks.
Some members of the audience also questioned if the town could look into more environmentally friendly options like electric vehicles and installing charging stations for the downtown areas.
Jacobs said the meeting sought to find a “sense of the right solution” for transportation in Rock Hall. She said the town should seek a solution that meets the needs of year-round residents, as well as those here seasonally, who need transportation within town limits and out of town limits. While Jacobs said the latter is “not necessarily up to the town,” she said the county is working on identifying transportation needs.
Everett said United Way of Kent County has conducted a survey meant to better identify transportation needs here as well. She said the survey’s data will be processed in a news release and further presented at a Feb. 4 Kent County Commissioners meeting. She said at the following commissioners meeting, representatives from Delmarva Community Transit will attend to detail the services they provide the community here.