OCEAN CITY – The modification of the late night bus shift in the winter months is being forwarded to the Maryland Transportation Administration after a public hearing held this week over the matter met no opposition.
According to Public Works Director Hal Adkins, in May of 2010 during budget discussions the Mayor and City Council chose to reduce the bus system’s winter deployment to two buses running during the first shift from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., two busses during the second shift from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. and one bus during the third shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Winter deployment historically runs from around Nov. 1 to March 31.
At the fiscal year 2014 Budget Wrap-Up meeting on April 19 this year, the council voted to modify the third bus shift and to only provide a third shift service from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. Friday through Sunday with the exception of those Monday through Thursdays that coincide with special events or holidays that would increase ridership demands
“The third shift was not proposed to be totally eliminated,” Adkins said, addressing a misconception.
During the budget wrap-up meeting, a deduction of $62,660 was made based on the reduction in service. After reviewing the calendar of events and holidays, winter deployment would be the time span from Oct. 28 through April 3 causing the actual projected deduction to be $45,792.
Adkins added after reviewing the department’s historical records of the third shift during winter deployment from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. there is an average of 48 bus riders. From midnight to 6 a.m. there is an average of 40 riders. He has received no complaints from those riders on the proposal to modify the third bus shift during winter deployment.
“We do not have data in which we reported those individuals’ names,” Adkins said. “If you rely on human interaction, which is sometimes the best, we sat down and spoke with one of our long-term year-round, part-time drivers that operates that shift … and I want the council to realize it is his opinion in knowing these riders … that about 90 percent of the 40 riders is single rides with single destinations.”
Ocean City resident John Medlin, who is a bus rider, explained he has rode two other bus systems.
The bus system in North Carolina would run from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and during the holidays the hours would be extended to 8:30 p.m. He also rode the Washington D.C. metro system that would run until 7 p.m.
“Hey, if it is running until late in the evening, be thankful,” he said.
Ocean City resident Ellie Diegelmann, suggested offering a voucher system to those low-income riders who depend on the bus for transportation and if they have to take a cab home from work their employer or the town can reimburse them.
“I know that sounds like a far stretch but if it is going to save us $45,000 and we have to spend $5,000 in vouchers, at least we are looking out for everybody’s needs,” she said. “It is quite often I drive home from West Ocean City to 120th Street late at night on my way home from work and in the winter months there doesn’t appear to be much of a bar or restaurant crowd that late at night at all. It is as if the sidewalks have been completely rolled up at that time of night.”
OC AARP 1917 President Chris Norris represents a membership of at least 200 and stated he has not received any input on the subject.
“They do call and email regular on different issues but I have received no phone calls or emails relative to this matter,” he said.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas appreciated those who voiced their opinions, but had hoped for a larger attendance to give input.
“People need to speak up and tell us their concerns. We are not mind readers, we don’t know, and I don’t want to create a hardship but we don’t know if there is one,” she said.
Councilman Brent Ashley, who had several bus riders come to him personally with complaints, agreed with Pillas and was also disappointed they had not attended the meeting to voice their concerns.
“I believe the government exists to serve the people and my initial thought on this was to vote against it,” he said. “However, as Margaret said, we are not mind readers. If you have an objection, you should be here to speak up about it and if not this is what happens.”
With the public hearing closed, Adkins explained the transportation department will send the MTA a letter describing the results of the public hearing and upon receiving their concurrence it will be submitted to the City Manager’s Office.