OCEAN CITY – The Mayor and City Council exemplified a united front that the public hasn’t seen in awhile at this week’s meeting when it unanimously increased Ocean City’s bus fare a dollar for its all-day pass.
According to Public Works Director Hal Adkins, more than a decade ago Ocean City’s bus fare was as low as 75 cents. At that time, ridership of the town’s transportation system was around 1.2 million and the revenue reached up to $900,000.
On May 1, 1991, the fare was changed to $1 for an all-day pass. The first 12 months after the change ridership reached 2.5 million, an increase of 52 percent, and the revenue shot up to $2.5 million, a 64-percent increase, according to Adkins.
Eleven years later, on June 17, 2002, the fare was increased to a $2-all-day pass. In the last year of the $1 fare, ridership stood at 3.9 million. In the first year of the $2 pass, ridership decreased to 3.3 million, a 16-percent drop. But, the revenue produced from the $2 pass increased from $1.5 million to $2 million, producing the town an additional $500,000, a 25-percent increase, according to Adkins.
As the town continues to brainstorm ways to cut costs while raising revenues, options were presented at this week’s meeting in increasing Ocean City’s bus fare as well as the Park and Ride fare.
Option A was to change the $2 all-day passes to $3 and the Park and Ride from $1 to a $2 all-day passes.
“The Park and Ride was put online in July 2001 and at this time the fare was free,” Adkins said. “The following year, July of 2002, is when we established the $1 all-day pass.”
Adkins explained that estimations made of the effects resulted by the proposed changes are based off historical reactions of the last time the fare was changed.
In this option, ridership is estimated to decrease 16 percent, and the annual ridership number should be around 2.46 million, a represented loss of 448,000. But the revenue will continue to increase another $500,000.
Option B was to allow riders to choose from a $1 boarding pass, allowing them to ride from point A to point B only, or they could purchase a $3 all-day pass.
“The purchase would be the choice of the customer,” Adkins said.
This option estimates a ridership loss of any where from 0 to 8 percent, based on the mixing fare structures, and ridership would range from 2.7 to 2.9 million. But the revenue will continue to increase at an estimated $750,000 to $1 million.
Adkins explained that the benefits to option B would be that it would provide the customer with a choice, depending on their intended use for the transportation system. This would also simplify the transaction procedure for those who chose the $1 boarding because no ticket would have to be given.
“We have what we call choice riders,” Adkins said. “The far majority of those individuals that use our system choose to do so. The question is which one of the options best fulfills the needs of the Mayor and City Council, and the customer. Will it fulfill customer satisfaction to avoid massive loss in ridership but at the same time providing the revenue enhancement that is necessary? Will it generate whatever your revenue goals are and hopefully it will balance ridership stability and hopefully growth? I don’t like the numbers going in the other direction to say the least.”
Upon closure of the public hearing, which attracted one speaker, Councilman Joe Hall began the conversation in a motion to adopt the $3 all-day pass and the $1 one-way fare. Hall also suggested offering a discount coupon book, which holds 20 tickets and sold for $15, and offer discount coupon books to be sold in bulk, where 20 books could be bought for $250, 50 books for $600, and 100 books for $1,125.
“What this does is give the opportunity to local businesses to re-sell these books and promote the bus system at a discounted rate,” Hall said. “I think that would help us augment the potential increase in ridership by empowering the hotels and restaurants…to be the distributor of the coupon books to the public and be able to receive some potential revenue in doing that service and to keep the people on the bus.”
According to Adkins, 19,000 coupon books were sold last year. It provides a 25-percent discount across the board on bus tickets.
“If I had to offer an opinion, given the fact that we carry 2.9 million riders in a given year…even when we sold 19,000 coupon books, it is minuscule in comparison to the whole system…if the council decides to try other outlets I don’t see the impact being severe if it wasn’t to work,” Adkins said.
Mayor Rick Meehan was concerned over raising the Park and Ride’s fare, resulting in a less incentive for those to ride the transportation system to and from West Ocean City.
“I do have some concern about raising the fare for the Park and Ride,” Meehan says. “We want to encourage people to park over there … I don’t think it is the best option at this point in time this year to raise that any more than it is. I like the way it is a dollar both ways, I think it serves its purpose, and it serves a good incentive.”
Joe Hall’s original motion, leaving the Park and Ride out at the moment went into vote, passed unanimously.
Following the vote on the bus fare, Joe Hall made a motion to change the Park and Ride fare to $1 on and $1 off. The council voted 2-5, with only Joe Hall and Brent Ashley in favor.
“We can come back and look at it again,” Meehan said. “We are really trying to grow that Park and Ride and make it a value.”