Citizen’s Quest To Help Transit Users Turns To County

OCEAN CITY – Bob Melvin has the Mayor and City Council in his corner.  Now all he has to do is convince the Worcester County Commissioners.

Melvin, a 90-year-old resident of Ocean City, has been on a mission of sorts for the better part of two years, to improve the seemingly flawed service provided by Shore Transit to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) transit users within the city limits of Ocean City.

Melvin’s claims, in their simplest terms, highlight the fact that Ocean City residents do not receive the same door-to-door ADA medical transport service as the other incorporated areas (Berlin, Snow Hill, and Pocomoke City) of Worcester County.

The reason, it seems, that Ocean City residents must use the city buses or ADA vans to be transported to the transit centers at the extreme north and south points of town, and then transfer to a Shore Transit bus for transport to medical facilities in Berlin or various other places on the peninsula, is that Shore Transit deems Ocean City’s transit system to be a “duplicate of services”, according to Public Works Director Hal Adkins.

“Ocean City is provided the opportunity annually to apply for SSTAP (Special Statewide Transportation Assistance Program) funds from the county but has historically never done so, nor needed to, as the Worcester County Commission on Aging provided a medical transport service to elderly residents who live in Ocean City,” said Adkins on Monday night.  “However, this portion of the services was eliminated and passed on to Shore Transit several years ago.”

Since Shore Transit feels that Ocean City has a duplicate of services and doesn’t come into the city limits, town residents who must transfer buses face lengthy travel times and a double charge from both the town and Shore Transit.

“One could take the stance that elderly citizens residing within the city limits of Ocean City are provided additional burdens (discriminated against) when trying to reach a destination for a medical appointment outside of our corporate limits, because they not only have to change one bus system to another, but they also have to pay the additional fare for the ride,” said Adkins.

The council approved the formation of a committee, at Adkins’ request to try to come to a conclusion and fix the situation or at least find some ways and means to fix the situation.

The ADA van service is not set by age, but rather by doctor’s certification, though in many cases, the users of the service are both elderly and handicapped. With that said, it seems that a letter received by Melvin on Oct. 1, 2008 from Kelly Shannahan, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer for Worcester County makes matters all the more troubling.

“The letter said that the commissioners of Worcester County have no responsibility for the medical transportation program of Ocean City, and told me to contact Shore Transit, even though Shore Transit does what it’s told by the county, as that’s where they get the money.  So, the county has tried to divorce itself from the issue,” Melvin said.

The council voted to have Mayor Rick Meehan pen a letter to the county and request the commissioners instruct Shore Transit to come into Ocean City and provide the exact same door-to-door service as is offered to the rest of the ADA eligible and age qualifying residents of Worcester.

“If they instruct Shore Transit to come in here and pick them up, then problem is solved,” said Councilman Jim Hall.

Yet even as council gave the nod for Meehan to pen a request, Melvin was already thinking about the appeal process, as he vocalized a bit of pessimism that the request would perhaps fall on deaf ears.

“Let’s get it to the point where we can ask for an appeal from the state, because I don’t think we are going to get it from the county,” said Melvin.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres, however, was quick to inform Melvin of the necessary process.

“Appeals are based on either the failure of the county to provide the funding or a dissatisfaction on the amount of the funding,” said Ayres. “So in this case, the Mayor and City Council have never asked for any bit of the funding, so there is nothing to appeal at this point.”

Ayres went on to say that if the request was denied, that an appeal to the Maryland Transit Authority would be the next step.

It should be stated that Melvin rarely had to use the service, as he still has a valid driver’s license, but uses a cane to get around after a hip replacement surgery. He told The Dispatch that he had heard stories of how long it took to get to a doctor’s appointment, and after he used the service a few times and the stories rang true, he felt compelled to lead the charge for change.

“I would hope that the County Commissioners take this request very seriously, as all we want is for Ocean City residents to receive the same service as other residents of Worcester County,” said Meehan.  “I think that sometimes, people forget that Ocean City residents are also residents of the county.”

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas hopes a solution is on the horizon.

“Title 2 says that you can’t subject (handicapped and elderly residents) to any hardship, and switching buses back and forth and waiting for long periods of time is a hardship”, she said. “And no one is supposed to be left out, but obviously the residents of Ocean City have been left out.”