Money At Center Of Handicap Transit Problems

OCEAN CITY – Robert Melvin is not the only one who thinks that it should never take three hours to get back and forth to Berlin. Unfortunately, that’s a reality that hundreds of Ocean City elderly and handicapped residents know all too well.

Melvin, who is handicapped, has been the loudest and clearest voice trying to get a single door-to-door transport service in and out of Ocean City. The current dual bus transportation service provided to handicapped residents to “off the island” medical centers often makes a simple doctor’s visit an all-day affair with many people spending double the time traveling to their appointment than their actual appointment, according to Melvin’s report presented to the Mayor and City Council on Monday night.

“I want to see this passed through and changed because I’m tired of fighting this battle,” said Melvin.

Councilman Lloyd Martin agreed with Melvin that something needed to be done and that the first steps should be taken.

“I would love to make this into a motion and pass it through tonight, Mr. Melvin, and the fact is that they have a door-to-door service everywhere in the county except for Ocean City, but we can’t put the cart before the horse,” Martin said.

The cart in this case appears to be money and not just the amount of it, but rather, who gets it.

Since 2002 Ocean City and Shore Transit, along with many others, receive $110,000 a year to operate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) programs. According to the Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA), Shore Transit received a grant for $362,015 for their 2009 SSTAP (Special Statewide Transportation Assistance Program). Of that grant, the state paid $269,015 and Shore Transit’s share is $93,000.

“Shore Transit offers this service in other towns on the shore, but Ocean City is the only town that has its own bus service. Shore Transit thought they were duplicating services when in fact they were not,” said Transportation Superintendent George Thornes.

So in essence, Worcester County allots the money awarded by the State of Maryland to Shore Transit, who in turn handles the transportation of the county elderly and handicapped individuals, and Ocean City also gets ADA money to use for their transport of the riders within city limits only, which is essentially “the rub” in this situation. Both the county and the town get ADA money, and neither seems to be willing to give it up to provide a seamless service for riders.

In Ocean City, the OC Transit service and the ADA para-transit buses transport residents to connecting off-island buses at either DART on the north end of town or Shore Transit on the south end. Shore Transit, however, does not currently go into Ocean City for pickup of riders, although it will drop people off in Ocean City, according to Melvin.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres tried to fully explain the situation when asked about the legal steps that should be taken if the town wants a change.

“My understanding of this is that it’s about money. The state gives it to Shore Transit, and you would have to either eliminate Shore Transit altogether and do it solely, or vice versa. [City Council] and Shore Transit would have to agree how this should be done”, said Ayres.

Ayres went on to say there is nothing that requires Ocean City to transport residents outside the town limits, but added that it could be done.

In Melvin’s proposal, he hoped the council would intervene and eliminate Shore Transit altogether from the equation, asking for OC Para-transit and Transit buses to extend their route eight miles inland to Berlin and back in a true “door to door” bus service.

“There is no obstacle in getting this done other than working out the money,” said Melvin. “My advisors say that those funds should go with the service if transferred to Ocean City.”

Karen Dozier, Service and Support Supervisor for Shore Transit, said that both sides want to provide the quickest and most seamless service.

“The easiest way might be for Ocean City to just extend the service they provide for their riders into Berlin and we could continue to handle the lesser amount of riders that go all the way to Salisbury,” he said.

Dozier said that Shore Transit currently goes door-to-door for the ADA pickup all over the county but excludes Ocean City because OC Transit didn’t want to lose riders.

“I know there have been meetings the two sides, and neither side was willing to budge on the matter. Unfortunately, it ends up being about the money,” she said.

At Monday’s meeting, Thornes seemed to verbally point the finger back at Shore Transit for the proverbial standstill between the two parties, saying, “I have a funny suspicion that [Shore Transit] aren’t going to go for giving away any money and give up the service.”

Thornes hinted via email that even if both sides agreed to something, the current Ocean City bus fleet might not be able to handle the load.

“A plan has to be written in detail as to how you will operate your system, and approved by the Worcester County Commissioners before applying for this service,” he said. “Ocean City does not receive funding for this program nor do we have the equipment capacity to service the area.”