City Council Opts To Maintain Current ADA System

COCEAN CITY – The discussion on ADA transportation resurfaced at this week’s work session, with the Mayor and Council taking a closer look at the transportation provided to the elderly and disabled residents of Ocean City.

The issue first arose last month, when local resident Robert Melvin appeared before the Mayor and Council to voice his concerns over the current options for transportation from Ocean City to Berlin.

Currently, the options for transportation service in Ocean City include the fixed route system, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) transportation, the Boardwalk trams, the Park and Ride and the trolley system. The issue however lies with the fixed route and ADA systems.

Melvin explained that if one wanted to travel from Ocean City to a doctor’s appointment in Berlin, they would have to take the bus to South Division Street, make the transfer to a bus taking them to the Park and Ride in West Ocean City and transfer again for transportation to Berlin.

Melvin pointed out that curb-to-curb pick up service used to exist in Ocean City, but is no longer an option.

George Thornes, superintendent of Transportation, explained the reason for the current situation. During the winter months, the fixed route transportation runs from 144th Street to South Division Street. The route is extended to the Park and Ride in the summer months. ADA transportation, available to anyone who is certified by a medical professional as disabled, can only run within three-fourths of a mile of a fixed route system (Coastal Highway).

 Thornes explained that the ADA transportation can only go within three-fourths of a mile from the fixed route in the winter and three-fourths of a mile from the fixed route and the Park and Ride in West Ocean City in the summer. Anyone residing outside of that three-fourths of a mile is eligible for curb pick up.

“That is our geographical limitation by funding,” said Public Works Director Hal Adkins.

Currently, the only disabled or elderly who receive curb-to-curb service in Ocean City are the 13 members of the Statewide-Specialized Transportation Assistance Program (SSTAP). As of June 2005, the SSTAP program became unavailable for Ocean City residents, grandfathering in 18 members who would still be eligible for curb service. Everyone else must now use the fixed route system in town provided by Ocean City’s Transportation System and the transportation to Berlin, provided by Shore Transit.

“The concern is that the current system of transferring from one system, ours, to another system, Shore Transit, is an inconvenience,” Adkins said, summarizing the concerns being represented by Melvin.

“I appreciate the service that’s been provided over the years,” Melvin said, explaining that he is confidant that the system can be better.

Melvin proposed that the town make the switch to curb-to-curb pick up, claiming that it would save people time and not cost the town any additional money.

“I find it very difficult, with all due respect, to fathom and agree with what you’ve stated,” Adkins said, explaining that Melvin’s suggestion would indeed cost more money.

Adkins maintained that ADA transportation is federally mandated to only operate within three-fourths of a mile of Ocean City.

Adkins also pointed out that a majority of the off-island trips are to other areas besides medical destinations, adding that tying up transportation for curb-to-curb pick up for medical transport would have an adverse affect on all other transportation. Adkins also pointed out that it would result in a need for more vehicles.

Councilwoman Nancy Howard questioned if the town could do away with the ADA system so that transportation could come into Ocean City for curb-to-curb pick up. Adkins explained that the ADA system must go hand in hand with a fixed route system.

Mayor Rick Meehan predicted that allowing for curb-to-curb pick up would result in an increase in the number of people using that system, which would inevitably result in an increase in costs.

“This would quickly become a huge anchor around the necks of the tax payers in Ocean City,” agreed Council President Joseph Mitrecic.

Howard suggested the city keep an eye on the system for the next few years and look for possible arenas for change.

“Ocean City is currently providing service to our challenged people, it may not be the perfect system, but it’s the system that we can provide,” said Howard.

Melvin expressed his agitation, saying, “I am very disappointed in your passing this off. If you’re willing to take second rate than that’s fine.”

City Solicitor Guy Ayres pointed out that even if the city wanted to make the change, it would still require the permission of the Public Service Commission as well as the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA).

Worcester County Commissioner Louis Gulyas spoke in support of the council’s decision, making two points.

“First, Ocean City has without a doubt, the best transportation system on the shore,” she said.

She also pointed out that Shore Transit is a work in progress.

“It isn’t fast and quick, it never will be,” she concluded.

The Mayor and Council agreed that the transportation system should remain as is for now.