OCEAN CITY – Effective Friday, the town’s bus system will be charging a $3 ride-all-day fare as the Mayor and City Council voted to eliminate the $1 per boarding this week while passing the upcoming fiscal year’s operating budget that sets the tax rate at the constant yield level.
A public hearing was held on Monday evening concerning the proposed bus fare change. At the work session on April 15, the council voted to move forward with a fare change for the town’s municipal bus service, eliminating the $1-per-boarding fare option. This results in a single fare system of $3 ride-all-day with an implementation date of Friday, May 23, at 6 a.m.
Ocean City resident John Adkins, who drove a city bus for seven years, recommended implementing a local bus pass during the hearing.
“All this time the taxpayers of Ocean City have subsidized the transportation of the buses. Most people who ride that bus do not realize what the taxpayers pay for that service,” he said. “A person who lives here, pays real estate taxes, should get a break riding the bus … those that have an ID showing they are a resident should pay a $1 because a lot of people who work here ride to and from work, and that is $2 … those people deserve a break. Three dollars all day for a tourist is a bargain that you cannot beat.”
Ocean City resident John Ziegler was also opposed to only offering the $3 ride-all-day bus fare.
“I work on 74th Street, and I like to go to work for $1 and come home for $1 … if we are going to give anyone a break it should be the locals,” he said.
Resident John Medlin stated his support for the bus fare change comparing Ocean City’s transit system to Worcester County’s transit system, Shore Transit, which charges $3 per boarding.
“Another suggestion I have for locals is to have a one-month pass that you can buy for a fee of $60 where you are able to board the bus at any time during that month,” he said.
Phyliss Moore was in opposition, reasoning an increase in the bus fare will push the summer work force to drink and drive.
“Why are we always looking to increase everything? It is so annoying,” she said. “I am for the summer help being able to get on for a $1, because their rent is horrendous. I have heard, ‘well it’s cheaper than a taxi.’ A taxi is a personal service … this is supposed to be a town service. It is a big benefit, and safe to keep it cheap.”
Citizen Ellie Diegelman also opposed eliminating the $1 per boarding as it not only affects the locals but the visitors and their families.
“If you have a family of four, instead of spending $4 they have to spend $12, and for the seasonal work force and especially the international students who don’t have cars, you are talking about seasonally increasing their expenses by $90,” she said.
Adkins touched on some of the comments made by first explaining the bus fare change would produce additional revenue in the remainder of FY14 by about $78,000 and increase revenue in FY15 by about $492,000.
“The system is subsidized,” Adkins said. “It currently is subsidized in the vicinity of $1.8 to $1.9 million. Should you choose to make this fare adjustment to a $3 ride-all-day and realizing an additional $492,000 in revenue you’re reducing your subsidy to be in the range of $1.3 to $1.5 million.”
Adkins concurred Shore Transit, traveling the tri-county area, is currently $3 per boarding, as well as DART (Delaware Area Regional Transit) that runs the coast from Ocean City to Lewes is $2.10 per boarding, and $3.10 to ride all day, and the Annapolis bus system is $2 per boarding, and $4 to ride all day.
“One of the reasons we were looking for revenue this year was to lower our tax. We wanted to stay with constant yield instead of having to raise taxes and have people subsidize the bus transportation, so almost $500,000 is a way of us having the user of the bus contribute rather than the taxpayer, and it is an effort of trying to have us be fair to all that is involved instead of always having the taxpayers pay more,” Councilwoman Margaret Pillas explained.
The council voted 6-1 to eliminate the $1 per boarding bus fare that became effective prior to the holiday weekend with Councilman Brent Ashley opposed.
“We talk about savings in one breath as far as the taxpayers expenses but we raise wages without blinking an eye … anybody worried about the taxpayers paying for higher wages? I don’t get it,” Ashley said.
Following the public hearing, the FY15 Budget approached the Mayor and City Council in its second and final reading.
The FY 15 operating budget requires a tax rate of .4704, which is constant yield. Prior year reserves in the amount of $931,828 are required to fund the budget to fund canal dredging, street paving, a bulkhead replacement and health insurance increases. The Fund Balance will still be maintained above the 15 percent level set by the council.
The council voted 5-2 to approve the budget with Ashley and Pillas in opposition.