In lieu of following up on a recommendation to buy a new town trolley, Bethany Beach staff are now recommending the Town move back to a single, longer trolley route. That could save the Town around $360,000 — the $400,000 cost of a new trolley, minus the trade-in value of one of the existing three trolleys.
Town Manager Cliff Graviet told the town council at their workshop on Feb. 13 that the new recommendation was based partly on the “insignificant” increase in ridership after the Town decided to split the trolley route in two back in 2015 (from 39,000 to 40,000), as well as the similarly insignificant reduction in transit times that resulted — only about 10 minutes less than the 30- to 45-minute typical round-trip ride time of the longer route.
Despite the low mileage and regular maintenance of the three existing trolleys, Graviet said, the larger diesel trolley, a 2005 model, had been out of service “a good bit” in 2016. Meanwhile, the smaller 2003 model, he said, is one the Town “has begun to treat as if it is a classic car.” (The third trolley is a gasoline-powered 2014 model, which was added to the fleet in recognition that three trolleys were needed in order to ensure two were operational at any one time.)
Asked why the reduction in ride time had been so small, Graviet said that most riders were still riding the Atlantic Avenue segment of the route, with many stops in that area.
Graviet had last month negated the idea of pursuing a jeep/tram combination as a new trolley, so as to decrease the system’s susceptibility to breakdowns, saying that, upon review, it had been determined to be impractical due to safety concerns.
The longer trolley route could be modified somewhat from its 2014 incarnation, Graviet noted, with some stops under consideration for elimination. He said there had been mixed reaction to some of the new stops.
With the pre-2015 route returning for in-town transportation, Councilwoman Rosemary Hardiman asked about the status of development of a smartphone app that could inform trolley riders when they might expect the trolley to reach their stop.
Graviet said the Town had been working with Google to get an app that would show where on the route the trolley was but hadn’t been sure how much attention a town of its size would get from the tech giant. Instead, he said, town staff had since made contact with a company that will develop a custom app that will work with Google’s mapping and traffic system but would be tailored to Bethany Beach.
The main difference between the two apps, Graviet said, is that the vendor version will not be able to pinpoint the user’s location on the map to show the trolley approaching the rider. It will show the trolley’s location, with a two-minute delay, but the user will have to have some idea of their location on the map in order to know how close the trolley is.
He said a review of the product was due next week, and the app could be ready for the 2017 summer season. The Town will add QR codes to its trolley-stop signs, he noted, so that users can quickly scan the code to get the app on their phones.
Mayor Jack Gordon also noted on Monday that the revenue from the trolley had dropped in 2016. Graviet said that it had been determined that 500 people had paid double the regular trolley fee in 2015, while some riders hadn’t paid at all in 2016, resulting in a $1,000 reduction in revenue last year.
Play in park deemed ‘not ready for prime time’
A proposal to bring a play — a musical — to the new Central Park in September met with a tepid reception from the council on Monday, as council members said they were willing to consider something like the proposal from the Bethany-Area Repertory Theatre (BART) but felt many issues would need to be addressed in order to even consider approving something of that nature.
Graviet said BART had approached the Town about the idea in November and had been asked to submit a proposal in writing. He said he had held off on any preliminary discussion with the group “because I didn’t want them to think they were on the path to approval.” For now, he said, he was asking the council if that was something they wanted to see.
He noted that BART had initially asked for a time for the production that included Sept. 9 but had already been told that that date was not available, due to existing plans for the annual council election and the Bethany Beach Boardwalk Arts Festival that day. He said they had told him it wasn’t a problem to move to a later date.
The proposal didn’t address some details, and if the council were to support it, Graviet said, he would pursue having a proposal that was “more in line with other events held in town.” That would include such issues as police coverage, rules related to noise, and the use of generators and portable toilets, among others.
Councilman Jerry Morris said he was concerned about how any noise would impact neighbors of the park and recommended any stage — inside a tent, under BART’s initial proposal — be placed in the center of the park, to provide more buffer. Additionally, he said he felt BART should pay for police coverage to guide attendees safely across Route 1.
Graviet said police coverage would be similar to the Fourth of July but the additional cost would have to be borne by BART.
Hardiman noted that 52 percent of those responding to the Town’s survey about the park and its uses had agreed that the park could be used for events similar to what was proposed.
“They should be treated as any other group, in terms of access and costs,” she said, suggesting controls on the use could be similar to those on the use of the bandstand, but different, because people who moved in to residences along the boardwalk moved in with the bandstand as a known element, while neighbors of the park didn’t necessarily expect the new park, or activities such as the play and things such as generators being in use.
“This is worthwhile pursuing, but we need to have rules in effect,” she said.
Graviet noted that, with all of the costs involved, BART could decide that the play was not profitable to do in Bethany, even at $25 per ticket.
Vice-Mayor Lew Killmer voiced support for setting rules for such use ahead of time, including who is eligible to use the park.
“This is a multi-day event, which is unusual for the town,” he noted, asking whether security would need to be provided if the tent was up for a couple days. “It’s a great concept, and it falls in line with what we are trying to do in the comprehensive plan, with art and education. I think it’s well worth trying.
“But we have to be cognizant that it’s in a residential area,” he added. “The details might be the difference between doing it and not doing it. Is it cost-effective for them?”
Peterson said, “After we put as much money as we’re going to put in the park, we should be looking at ways to use it. I think this could be a thing to try, as long as we get these guidelines together.”
Frye said the proposal would be “a neat experiment. It is a multi-day event. That’s totally different for us.”
In fact, Gordon said, the proposal said the tent would be up for seven days.
Resident Joan Gordon said she felt the council was “putting the cart before the horse. We haven’t developed the park yet. Having things there a great idea,” she added, but there were concerns that needed to be addressed. “It may not be feasible for this fall.”
Resident Vahan Moushegian Jr., who is chairman of the Town’s Board of Adjustment,” voiced a similar concern. “We don’t know what the utilization of the park will be by people. We need to see how it’s utilized, then build upon that.”
Graviet noted that the Town is paying $100,000 for the full ready-to-construct plan for the park, minus a pergola or pavilion, which cut up-front design cost from $150,000 as they decide how to proceed with any such structure later on in the process.
“My only concern would be, is if this is something the council chooses to do and it is well-received, we would put up a different kind of structure. It’s not in the $100,000, but we would want to consider that.”
He said hosting an event like BART’s could change the park design, such as ensuring it was placed in a larger area of the park if the play were well-received.
Resident Randy Miller, who lives near the park on Gibson Avenue, left no doubt about his opinion of the proposal.
“I am completely against this. BART isn’t even in Bethany Beach,” he noted of the group, which generally presents its productions at Dickens Parlour Theatre in Millville, “and there are not that many children in town” who might benefit from the scholarship for students of the arts that BART funds with the proceeds from its productions, he asserted.
“I don’t want 1 cent of my tax money go to Dickens Theatre to put some kid through college,” Miller said, suggesting that the Town instead look at activities such as the farmers’ market. “A hundred and fifty years from now, knock yourself out,” he added. “I’m not opposed to some activities in the park, but this is ridiculous.”
Graviet asked the council if they wanted the proposal put on a council agenda for a vote, but Gordon said, “I don’t know if we know enough about it. We need to develop some rules. A lot of people wanted to use the bandstand. I would have a lot more questions,” the mayor said, including about insurance issues and the potential impact on the Town should the play prove a “flop.”
Graviet asked their opinion about the Town engaging in further dialogue with BART about the proposal, but the council consensus was that they wanted to develop a set of overall rules for use of the park, rather than developing rules specifically for this proposal, including what times of year such use might be permitted.
“In deference to them, it’s a great idea, but I’m not sure we’re ready for it,” Hardiman said.
“It’s not ready for prime time,” added Killmer. “They’re expecting too much for the Town to take on. Multi-day events is new to us. Much of what’s involved is new to us — all those porta-potties there for a week?
“The whole purpose of these kinds of events should be shoulder-season events,” he added of the timing. “The ultimate benefit is that businesses have a reason to stay open longer.”
Graviet said he would tell BART that the council was working to develop guidelines for use of the park.