ATLANTIC CITY - A directive to "watch the tram car, please" may have to be added as the Boardwalk grows more crowded in the coming months, but for now, a toot of the horn from the battery-powered Boardwalk Jitney will have to do.
People strolling the boards during a trial run Friday may not have been used to vehicles beyond the usual rolling chairs. So as the grasshopper-green prototype made its way along the Boardwalk, some seemed reluctant to get out of the way.
"They'll just have to get used to it," observed passenger Judy DeCaellis of Galloway as some of the walkers - after receiving several toots from the horn - moved to the side to let the vehicle pass. "I guess that's what makes this a trial run."
The Atlantic City Jitney Association last week rolled out the first of 10 15-passenger vehicles that are to eventually run about 12 hours a day along a three-mile stretch of Boardwalk from the Revel Casino in the Inlet section down to the Tropicana Casino at Chelsea Avenue. The ride is free through Friday, after which the association will begin charging $3 per person.
Since temperatures were still chilly along the oceanfront, a zippered clear plastic enclosure had been installed to keep passengers warm. The vehicle has heat but no air-conditioning, so the plastic will be removed during the summer so riders can enjoy the ocean breezes, said Tom Woodruff, president of the 190-member Jitney Association.
The jitney will feature a video screen that will stream information about the resort and various tourist attractions, Woodruff said.
The Boardwalk Jitney has the approval of the city to operate until May 2, when the City Council will have to decide whether to make the resort's latest mode of transportation permanent. Two years ago, the group began operating jitney service in Avalon and Sea Isle City, Woodruff said.
"This is a wonderful experience . . . an attraction unto itself," said Evalene Patten, who said she visits Atlantic City twice a year from Allentown. "Absolutely wonderful. I hope it's made permanent, so we can use it every time we come down."
The vehicles cost $25,000 each and are being paid for by members of the association. The members, who operate their privately owned jitneys elsewhere in Atlantic City on a strict 15-day-a-month schedule, would have the chance to pick up extra shifts on the Boardwalk run to supplement their income, Woodruff said.
"It's a forward-thinking mode of transportation and one more attraction for tourists," said jitney driver Terri Kromenacker of Galloway Township, who tested out the new vehicle Friday.
Though city officials and tourists heralded the new transportation mode - elongated golf-cart-like vehicles considered "green" because they run quietly on battery power and emit no carbon dioxide - the operators of the old-fashioned rolling chairs haven't been as thrilled.
About a half-dozen private companies operate about 300 rolling chairs on the Boardwalk, a practice dating to the 1880s when the wicker basket on wheels contraptions, pushed by a human operator like a reverse rickshaw, came into vogue.
But in recent years, the genteel tradition has been under threat by the resort's sagging casino economy and complaints against some operators for boisterous hawking, drunkenness and illegal activity. The city two years ago enacted ordinances to clean up the rolling chair industry and began working with chair companies to upgrade their operations.
Two of the rolling chair companies, Ocean Rolling Chairs and Atlantic City Boardwalk Rolling Chairs, attempted to block the Atlantic City Jitney Association from conducting its trial run on the Boardwalk. The rolling chair advocates said the jitneys would cause irreparable financial harm to their companies and the chair operators. Rolling chair rides cost a minimum of $5 for a six-block ride.
But a judge Wednesday upheld City Council's resolution that the new jitneys conduct the trial operation.
"I think there is a place for both on the Boardwalk," said Bruce Seldon, a former heavyweight boxing champion who happened to board the tram Friday.
Seldon, who was born in the resort and was known as the "Atlantic City Express" when he began his boxing career in the 1980s, said he remembered similar trams operating on the Boardwalk when he was younger.
"But, wow, this is cool," Seldon said. "But I really think they are going to have to get that recording of 'Please watch the tram car,' when this Boardwalk gets crowded this summer."