OCEAN CITY – Some seniors have been vocal about the town extending their Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bus service “off the island,” but now, they might be vocal about a new proposal raising the costs to use those buses “on the island.”
The “low hanging fruit” may have been trimmed from the Ocean City budget, but it now appears that cuts have moved to the areas that will no doubt ruffle some proverbial feathers, namely, the ADA para-transit bus service for senior citizens.
A public hearing will be held in late January to discuss the possible increase of the ADA bus service provided to resident and non-resident senior citizens to $4 per ride, which would coincide with what the law deems applicable.
Currently, resident senior citizens can use the ADA curb-to-curb bus service within the town limits of Ocean City for free and non-resident seniors ride for a dollar. ADA clients, such as younger residents that need the handicapped bus service, pay the normal $2 per ride fare.
Public Works Director Hal Adkins realized that a proposed increase, though allowed by a federal regulation allowing demand response services like the ADA bus service to be twice whatever the fixed route fare is, would be a hot button topic for discussion.
“I realize that this is a controversial issue, but we are trying to right-size the service without affecting the service to the community,” said Adkins. “I feel that I have to bring these cuts to (the council), and I realize that anytime there are cuts, it hurts some people.”
The current operating costs to run the ADA van/bus service is over $250,000 per year with a grant from the Maryland Transit Authority contributing $110,000 of that cost. With that said, Ocean City’s operating cost for the service is over $137,000 and Adkins said that last year, the service only brought in just over $2,300 in revenue.
“An across-the-board increase in fare to $4 would increase our revenue a projected $25,000-55,000 if the current amount of riders are maintained. We currently lose about $140,000 a year on this service, and best-case scenario, even with this increase, we’d lose about 90,000”, he said.
The motion to take it to a public hearing was passed 5-1 in Councilwoman Margaret Pillas’ absence with Councilman Jim Hall in opposition.
“We are going to turn this town upside down here. We are going to have a lot of angry people, and an ugly hearing, and I think we are going down the wrong path,” said Hall.
Adkins said via email that though he knows this is a controversial topic, he feels, “the curb-to-curb service at $4 would still be a good bargain for any eligible users.”
Councilman Lloyd Martin encouraged the public to realize that the burden of cutting costs and saving money is the job of everyone in the community, including seniors.
“We aren’t trying to stick anyone with a 400-percent raise in price, but we obviously do need to split the costs on this,” he said.
The revenue created by this service has dropped almost 50 percent since 2000 and operating costs more than doubled in that same time period.
Transportation Superintendent George Thornes pointed out similar municipalities such as Salisbury charge the federally mandated “double the town fare” for demand response services like ADA.
“Shore Transit, to the best of my knowledge, charges $6 for the same curb-to-curb service,” he said.