Lewes Line approved by council

Transit system set to kick off prior to Memorial Day
February 18, 2022

Lewes Mayor and City Council voted Feb. 14 to approve a proposed transit system called the Lewes Line.

The vote was not unanimous, though, as one councilman voted against and the deputy mayor abstained.

As part of the vote, the city agreed to a lease agreement with Delaware Transit Authority, which will provide five retired DART buses for just $1 each. The lease is for three years, but council is seeking to amend the agreement to add a termination clause to allow the city to return the buses if the transit program does not work out.

The estimated cost of the pilot program is $157,000, which will pay for eight drivers, uniforms, vehicle maintenance, vehicle prep, insurance and fuel.

The plan is to run two buses on a prescribed route daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., from the week before Memorial Day through Sept. 30. The current proposal has nine stops: Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal, Johnnie Walker Beach (Beach 2), Savannah Beach (Beach 1), Otis Smith Park on Savannah Road, 1812 Park lot on Front Street, Canalfront Park, Schley Avenue parking lot, Lewes library/trailhead, and Cape Henlopen High School.

Buses have 14 seats, including two handicap spaces. The initial proposal recommended charging users $1 per day, cash only; however, city staff believes that will be difficult to manage, so they’re now considering a fee of $1 per ride. Revenue was originally projected at $20,000, but may be adjusted to reflect a $1-per-ride model and any advertising that is sold for display inside the buses. Staff is also considering a season pass for residents.

Former Deputy Mayor Bonnie Osler commented during the Feb. 14 meeting that the public needs more input before council moves forward. She suggested a public workshop.

Jones rejected the idea.

“I’m not in favor of a public workshop,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to go forward with something. I believe a pilot program is an opportunity to do that.”

Resident Randy Burton urged council to expand the program.

“I believe the City of Lewes will only get one shot to make this work, and I do not believe this strategy goes far enough,” he said. “Considering there are many neighborhoods that are a part of Lewes and many others that are outliers that are not along these routes, it seems this is a bridge that does not span the river.”

He added that any transit service must include access to Cape Henlopen State Park facilities.

“If this pilot program is not successful, it would be off the table for decades or more,” Burton said. “It seems the commitment needs to be for a three-year minimum with an eye toward immediate expansion each year.”

Councilman Tim Ritzert voted against the program. During discussion, he raised concerns about approving the program before council has had a chance to consider everything else in the fiscal year 2023 budget.

He also raised concerns about management of the transit service and the lack of a supervisor.

Assistant City Manager Ellen Lorraine McCabe has agreed to oversee the program. The city’s human resources administrator is also prepared to manage the personnel side of things, said City Manager Ann Marie Townshend.

“Ellen Lorraine and I will be very directly involved in it,” Townshend said. “We need to be able to evaluate what worked and what didn’t, and give [council] a comprehensive report on the operation. I think this is a reasonable structure for a pilot.”

Deputy Mayor Andrew Williams abstained from voting because he didn’t want to kill the idea.

“I think it’s a good idea; I just don’t think it’s fully vetted yet,” he said.

He also shared concerns that Lewes is shouldering the burden of continued development outside the city.

Councilman Khalil Saliba, who worked with Jones and city staff to develop the transit service plan, said the program is long overdue.

“It is a pilot program. We’re going to find out early on or throughout the summer that we’re going to have to make modifications to the program,” he said. “We’re very hopeful it will provide new options for those who are out of the area, but also maybe at some point it will grow into a program that could benefit full-time residents who want to move around town.”


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