Council kills Lewes Line

Vote ends pilot program plagued by low ridership
February 13, 2024

The Lewes Line bus service will not be coming back for a third season, after Lewes Mayor and City Council voted to end the pilot program a year early.

The vote at the Feb. 12 meeting was 3-2. Deputy Mayor Khalil Saliba and Councilwoman Carolyn Jones voted in favor of keeping a reduced service going this summer. Councilmen Tim Ritzert and Joe Elder voted to end it altogether. Mayor Andrew Williams broke the tie with a vote to kill it.

“We learned one thing, people were not willing to abandon their cars and get on a shuttle bus to go to the beach,” Saliba said.

He said the city had received support from the Lewes Chamber of Commerce and Lewes Historical Society to keep some form of the line alive. Saliba said there was a tentative deal between the city and Delaware River and Bay Authority to split the $50,000 cost for a reduced service. As proposed, he said it would have run Friday through Sunday, made two or three stops from the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal to Second Street and used only two or three of the five buses the city leased from DART. 

The approved motion to end the service calls for the city to return those buses.

“The three years is related to the lease on the buses, not a commitment from council to continue a pilot for three years,” Ritzert said. “I don’t know why we would expect ridership numbers to change running it three days.”

The Lewes Line cost the city $177,000 over its first two years of operation. The service was never intended to make a profit, but ridership did not significantly increase in the second season. 

The city did not include any money for Lewes Line in its proposed budget for fiscal year 2025.

Critics argued that taxpayer money shouldn’t have been used for what some people have called the “ghost bus,” because it was often empty.

“One of [Saliba and Jones’] arguments is that the line supports the city’s businesses by providing service between the ferry and downtown. I believe the ferry and/or DART will provide this service at no cost to the city and, therefore, will not affect the businesses,” said resident John Cross, who has been outspoken about discontinuing Lewes Line.

Last year, Lewes Line operated seven days a week from May 22 through Sept. 30. It made 12 stops from the ferry to places in and just outside city limits.

Council had previously conceded a third year would have to look different and cost less.

The buses did generate what the city called extra-duty revenue, providing shuttle service for events around town such as the historical society’s Holiday House Tour and the History Book Festival.

Now, DART’s Route 204 bus will be the only public transit running from the ferry to downtown Lewes and points west. That route is scheduled to be scaled back from every 30 minutes to every 50 minutes.

Saliba said Lewes is a candidate for an Uber-like DART on-demand transit program, but that is three to five years away.

“I’m concerned that if we don’t continue [Lewes Line] it will send the wrong signal to DART, and others we’ve been working with, that Lewes isn’t committed to public transit,” Saliba said.


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