Citizen Wins Battle For Handicap Bus Service Changes

OCEAN CITY — Bob Melvin says he’s going to be taking a little time off to relish his recent victory in his two-year quest to change the town’s transport service for elderly and handicapped riders.

Although it’s a story in itself that Melvin, a 90-year-old Ocean City resident, was persistent enough over the last two years to fight for a change in the town’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bus service, the real story this week was the City Council’s unanimous decision to extend the city’s current system, using money to be allotted from Shore Transit, to provide a door-to-door service from the resort to medical facilities in Berlin.

Melvin stood in the back of an otherwise seated City Hall crowd on Monday night carefully listening to the words of Public Works Director Hal Adkins’ final recommendation to the Mayor and Council.

“I would like to propose a pilot program until April 1 that will run three days per week [Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday] from anywhere in Ocean City to Berlin, using the funding that Shore Transit receives from the state, which they have agreed to give to us, in order to assume the service they provided for that stretch of county road,” said Adkins. “I truly believe that this is the best we are going to get in this situation.”

The ADA bus troubles for Ocean City residents stemmed from the fact that Ocean City is the only incorporated city in the county that has its own transit system, and in the case of ADA transportation, Shore Transit deemed coming to resort resident’s doors for pick-up a duplication of services since the town had its own ADA transport vans.

As a result, residents had to use the Ocean City service and transfer to Shore Transit buses to complete their trip to their destinations in the greater Berlin area.

Melvin has argued that the long waits and travel times caused by changing between the two systems often makes a nine-mile, one-way trip take several hours.

“This all started when I had hip surgery a few years back and I had to use the service a few times,” said Melvin. “I realized that there was a huge hardship being endured by the handicapped, and I decided that I was going to put an end to it, and find a way to get it changed.”

The past two years has seen Melvin doing the political back and forth between the Ocean City Council, Tri-County Council, Shore Transit and the County Commissioners trying to get one of the entities to forgo their governmental funding and ensure an improvement in the provided service to the handicapped and elderly residents of Ocean City.

On Monday night, Melvin’s efforts were finally rewarded.

“This is the type of thing that I got involved in local politics for,” said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas. “Mr. Melvin is a great example of what all our citizens should be doing as far as getting involved when they feel a change should be made, …”

Adkins, who Melvin called the “key man on board” in this situation, was keen to explain the change would probably cost the town roughly $10,000 to expand the town’s system and proposed a new fee structure for riders.

“I think if we establish a fee structure very similar to what Shore Transit has been charging, which is $5 each way, this will ensure that the town will not feel any financial bleeding,” said Adkins.

Historically, the ADA system is a huge loss for the town in the revenue category, as it costs $275,000 to operate the town’s system, but $110,000 is accounted for with state grant money. Adkins said however, that the 270 registered ADA users in the town only create a few thousand dollars in revenue for the town based on the old fee structure.

Adkins said that any rider who possessed a senior citizens card used the system for free, and other riders could ride for $1 or $2 all day.

Of the 270 registered ADA users, only 25 are active users of the service and cumulatively took 475 trips off the island in 2008.

The few arguments that were made about the change in service touched on concerns that the alteration of the service, which would end up costing the town more money, was only for a small number of riders.

There still seem to be some concerns however, on how this change in the service will effect not only the town’s bottom line, but if the town’s fleet of four aging ADA vans can sustain the expanded work load.

“I think the council wanted to do the right thing and help our citizens who weren’t getting the same service as other residents in Worcester County,” said Mayor Rick Meehan, “but I have some serious concerns that this pilot program could ending up costing the city more than the $10,000 and I am not necessarily in favor of adding user costs even with a system that will be up for review in April.”

Melvin said this matter is about the elderly and handicapped residents who will now be able to get a reasonably priced and efficient service to their physician’s offices.

“I’m just glad I could help 270 people get the service that they should have been getting all along”, said Melvin, “the secret of living is to keep your mind going, and after 90 years, this certainly keep me running around and thinking on my feet, so I’m going to take some time off.  Well, at least until April when they review the pilot program.”

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