OCEAN CITY — Bob Melvin accused the Ocean City Mayor and Council of “wagging the tail” and urged them to take action now on the door-to-door handicapped bus service he’s been fighting to change for over two years.
Melvin says that Shore Transit and the Tri-County Council have “agreed to all but bend over backwards to help [Ocean City] start this service”, and he claims that Ocean City needs to act now before the complex and often confusing issue fades away from the forefront.
What was notable about the 90-year-old Melvin’s words to the council on Tuesday night, however, was that despite being respectful and eloquent as always, he was much more brash and animated than he’s ever been.
“I’ve been pushing for this vigorously and I don’t think that we should stop because we are almost there,” said Melvin. “Time takes away momentum and Shore Transit and the Tri-County Council have basically agreed to the exact plan that I’ve been proposing for two years, so I urge you to take action and finally put this matter to bed.”
What Melvin has been fighting for is the change in service provided for handicapped users of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
Currently, the service in Ocean City does not go off the proverbial island, and Shore Transit, who handles the service for the rest of the county, has never ventured into Ocean City to pick up residents who live within town limits as it’s deemed a duplication of services.
What ends up happening, according to Melvin, is riders must change buses, pay two fees and be subjected to long travel times in order to get to medical offices in Berlin.
Melvin’s plan has been for Ocean City to extend its own ADA service and essentially absorb or takeover the money that is handed down to Shore Transit from Worcester County to run the service in the eight miles between Ocean City and Berlin.
Last year, both Ocean City and Shore Transit received $110,000 to run the ADA service, and the Maryland Transportation Authority gave a grant for $362,015 of Special Statewide Transportation Assistance Program (SSTAP) money to run the service for the entire county.
The council formed a committee that would address this issue, and Melvin thought that the town was on his side as the committee penned a letter to the County Commissioners asking that they instruct Shore Transit and the Tri-County Council to delegate the money to Ocean City in order to extend the resort’s current service.
The commissioners, however, essentially voted to stay out of the debate and basically deemed it an “Ocean City decision”, according to Commissioner Judy Boggs.
Although there are no signs to cite that the town of Ocean City or the council is deserting Melvin this close to the finish line, it appears there continues to be some uncertainty about whether the town could provide the extended service or how the transfer of funds would work.
“Sometimes the cost exceeds good intentions,” said Mayor Rick Meehan, “We’ve got [Public Works Director] Hal Adkins working on it and I think he’s going to get the committee together again to work on this before the next meeting. But, I think we need to get a clear outlook on what all this is going to cost the town before we move forward.”
Meehan said that even though the town gets money from the state to run its ADA bus service, he says the cost to actually operate the service is far greater than the money they get from Annapolis. He fears even if the money were to be passed over to the town from Shore Transit’s grants the cost could be too vast for the resort.
In addition, there has also been some speculation if the town’s fleet of ADA vehicles could carry out any change in the current system, as eluded to by Transportation Director George Thornes several months ago during a previous discussion before the Mayor and City Council. Thornes called the current service “flawed but not broken” and “one that would cost an awful lot of money to improve.”
Melvin says that he’s spoken with Shore Transit and the Tri-County Council and those entities are apparently in his corner, and now Melvin says he just has to keep pushing to get to the happy ending.
However, Melvin acknowledges money will play a very large role in how that change ends up playing out.
“Exactly how much needs to be passed over to Ocean City from Shore Transit has not been discussed yet,” said Melvin, “but the plan is simple they simply have to give Ocean City the money to run the service for an eight-mile stretch from town limits to Berlin.”
Melvin said he’s a bit surprised at this point that he is left trying to coerce the town to finally pull the trigger on a matter he worked so long and hard to get onto the town’s radar.
“Your guess is as good as mine as far as the hold up on this is concerned,” said Melvin. “All I know is that my job is to get a better service for the handicapped, and I know we are almost there. It’s just going to take a few more pushes.”