OC’s Off-Season Bus Service Cuts Close To Reality

OCEAN CITY — A handful
of opponents and only a few disdainful comments couldn’t sway the City
Council’s earlier decision to trim the city bus fleet this winter at Monday’s
required public hearing at City Hall.

During the budget
hearings in May, the City Council voted to scale back the winter bus deployment
from three buses each shift to what Public Works Director Hal Adkins called a
“2-2-1” deployment in one of their numerous cost cutting measures.

“Winter deployment
starts the first Monday in November to the first Sunday in April of a given
year, in this case it’s Nov. 1, 2010-April 3, 2011,” said Adkins. “At that
time, the third shift, 10 p.m.-6 a.m. on Sundays to Thursdays, we would be
reducing the level of service to one bus during that graveyard shift, as it is
commonly known.”

Adkins went on to
explain to the council and those in attendance at the required public hearing
from the Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA), that the day-time buses in
the winter months, would also be scaled back from three buses to two.

The total savings that
the council voted to accrue from this change back in May was approximately
$109,000 with roughly $59,000 of that sum gained from the graveyard shift
changes in deployment.

Of course, with any
action causes a bit of a reaction, and some in attendance at the hearing, which
the MTA requires in any matter that would reduce a city’s bus fleet, thought
that the longer wait times due to the smaller fleets would be debilitating to
users of the service.

“This change doesn’t
effect me, but I’m here because I know that the people this would effect
probably can’t make it to this hearing because they are too busy working,” said
English Towers resident Beverly Butler. “This change isn’t fair to those
standing out in the cold and waiting for over an hour. If they miss a bus by
two minutes, they’ll have to wait in the cold for an hour until another bus
comes.”

Adkins did concede that
the headways, or wait times for the buses, most notably on the graveyard shift,

would be longer than the current approximated 30 minute headways.  He estimated that the graveyard shift

headways would be about an hour.

“We did a study to see
how many people this change would effect, and we believe that the one bus on
the graveyard shift will be able to accommodate the users during that shift,”
said Adkins. “We have found that during that time there are around 30 people
that use that bus on a continuous basis, and the drivers know those 30 people
and will work things out to make sure they pick them up and don’t leave anyone
out in the cold.”

Councilman Jim Hall
reiterated to the audience that the council was reluctant to make the change,
but believed that it was something that had to be done.

“We didn’t want to do
this, but the budget called for it this year,” said Hall, “but I think the
drivers knows where those 30 people usually get picked up and they will do a
good job with hitting those streets at the same time each night.”

Councilman Joe Hall also
said if the new fleet deployment was not satisfying user needs, that the town
could elect to add more buses to any of the town’s three shifts without a
public hearing.

Still, some in the
audience were less than thrilled by the service reduction in the name of cost
cutting measures, and they took the time to point out a forthcoming change in
the bus service, which will begin in January: a hike in the bus fee from $2 to
$3.

“So, if I understand
this right, you are reducing the fleet in the winter, and then you are also
increasing the cost of the bus too because of the budget,” said year-round bus
rider Vicki Johnson. “I just want everyone to realize that (you are doing
both).”

Mayor Rick Meehan
believes that the city should look into developing an “App” that would
essentially allow users to see where the bus is on Coastal Highway.

“In 2011, I think we
should look into having this technology for our residents and our visitors,”
said Meehan.  “It’s amazing what these
phones can do now and being able to walk out of a restaurant and pull up your
‘App’ on your phone and find out where the bus is would be a great thing to
have in Ocean City.”

Adkins said the city is
waiting to assign a consultant to look into using a $75,000 transportation
development grant and a project such as the one Meehan pitched could fall into
that category.

“We don’t want to
fragment our way into the technological age,” said Adkins, “but we are most
certainly looking into the possibilities of such a project.”

The MTA will now take the
testimony from the hearing and make a final decision on whether or not the city
should cut back the service, but town officials believe that the small amount
of testimony may not sway the town’s budget time ruling to scale back the fleet
in the winter months.

 

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