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‘Watch for COVID-19, Please’

Plexiglass is one of several changes to the Wildwoods Boardwalk tramcars

By Rachel Rogish

NORTH WILDWOOD – As the Jersey Shore slowly reopens, Wildwood’s iconic source of transportation helps deliver a sense of normalcy amidst the change.
Patrick Rosenello, executive director, Boardwalk Special Improvement District, explained the changes comprising the “new normal.” Each bench is separated from another by a plexiglass partition. The plexiglass will serve as a divider, helping fight COVID-19’s spread.
Each passenger group will have their own “compartment” without blocking the view or compromising on safety.
“We will sanitize twice an hour,” Rosenello said May 26, the day tram cars resumed operation.
When a tram reaches the end of its two-mile run, it will be wiped down and sanitized.
“Our staff will wear masks,” Rosenello said, explaining another safety consideration.
According to Rosenello, who is also North Wildwood’s mayor, the cars haven’t missed a summer since their first run, in 1949. However, the yellow cars did not run over the Memorial Day weekend, and, as of May 26, only a few trams will be in operation.
Rosenello then explained the final innovation, perhaps the largest to date.
Riders will be able to download a tram car app on their smartphones, eliminating the need for contact payment. After purchasing a ticket through the app, a barcode will appear, and a conductor will scan it, verifying the purchase.
 “It’s completely cashless,” Rosenello explained. He hopes to have the app available for the July 4 weekend.
Single tickets, multiple tickets, and day passes are available for purchase. Tram car locations can also be tracked along the boardwalk via the app.
Changes always come with a price tag, and Rosenello said the Special Improvement District is footing the bill. Thus far, the plexiglass partitions and app technology total $50,000. Sanitizing will be an ongoing cost, said Rosenello, who does not have a cost estimate at this time.
Besides the new operating and equipment costs, another pandemic challenge is the lack of staffing.
Rosenello described the situation as “a little understaffed” due to no foreign students. Yet, a surprising twist comes from the local labor pool, as county and island residents are seeking employment.
“We are reaching out,” Rosenello said, referring to employee recruitment.
How are Tram Operators Handling the Changes?
John Gigliotti, known as “Gigi,” has worked as a supervisor for 26 years since he retired from the railroad industry. Gigliotti said he is glad to be back at work and seeing the trams run again.
“I see the same people every year,” he said. “It’s a nice job.”
Gigliotti, originally from West Deptford, owns a home in North Wildwood and enjoys helping tourists find their way around. Although content with the new rules, Gigliotti said the pandemic is “a sad time for everyone,” especially store owners along the Boardwalk.
Summer on Five-Mile Island will be different this year, and Rosenello said some business owners are feeling the crunch. Some businesses, according to Rosenello, may not have a choice to reopen if the Wildwoods cannot fully reopen soon.
To contact Rachel Rogish, email rrogish@cmcherald.com.

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