It’s unclear what action the Ocean City Mayor and Council will take after this week’s public hearing on proposed changes to the town’s mass transit system. Although there were strong sentiments expressed to not alter the bus service to save money, we think the council should institute some reductions.
Government, at times, is all about compromise, and this is one of those occasions. The council would be wise to make further cost-saving changes, all the while keeping an eye on service and making sure the level does not deteriorate to unacceptable levels. That’s the balancing act. More than likely, any significant change in service will adversely affect wait times for riders, but we think smart moves can limit the inconveniences while cutting down on the town’s expenditures.
Options recently proposed and currently being considered are reducing the number of buses on Coastal Highway from January-March; decreasing the number of buses and/or modifying service hours from 10 p.m.-6 a.m., January-March; and using smaller, more efficient, vehicles for use from 10 p.m.-6 a.m. January-March.
We believe the answer lies in a combination. Initially, it was proposed eliminating the night shift altogether from Sunday-Thursday, but when it was discovered 4,500 riders, some of which could be duplicate, on average board the bus each month in the winter during the night hours, that was quickly removed. That was wise, even though eliminating the shift would mean a net savings of $132,000.
There are a lot of different ways to look at this service and a few means to save money. For instance, simply cutting the number of buses on Coastal Highway back in November at all times from four to three has meant a net savings of $78,000. Further reducing the operations to two buses for the first two shifts of the day and one bus, Sunday-Thursday, at the night shift would mean a savings of $124,919, according to city estimates.
The only option the council cannot consider is not doing anything at all, but comments made at this week’s public hearing seem to indicate no further reduction in service would be approved by a majority of the council. This would be a shame.
The town is just beginning to explore all departmental funding, and this cost-cutting trip could take some winding paths. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to say that the cuts will not impact residents and visitors. However, they must be done, thanks in large part to a serious reduction in property tax revenue due the town after the latest round of assessments.
We support the so-called “2-2-1” concept, meaning the town would have two buses operating in the winter months from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. as well as from 2-10 p.m. and one bus from 10 p.m.-6 a.m. Sunday-Thursday through March. Wait times will obviously increase along the highway as more ground will need to be covered and bus drivers will need their breaks, but this can be done this time of year.
We understand the gripes of those who criticized any reduction in service. However, inconveniences will have to be endured and adjustments made in these economic times, and the town cannot pass up the three-month savings that could ultimately, combined with other cost-saving measures in other departments, reduce the amount of money property owners pay in taxes. This is a tough decision, but we think the council should move forward with the service reduction.