SNOW HILL – A request from the Ocean City Mayor and Council to the Worcester County Commissioners to take a stance on medical transportation services between the resort and the county has resulted in no real action after the commissioners discussed the matter at their meeting Tuesday.
Ocean City resident Robert Melvin has been campaigning for a more efficient way to transport the resort’s senior citizens to medical care.
About 20 to 30 people use the medical transport service yearly, some multiple times.
A committee comprised of Ocean City and Shore Transit interests resulted in Shore Transit proposing four options to the town in mid-April. Shore Transit has not received an answer yet.
A late June letter from Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan to the county asked the commissioners “to review the attachment, speak with others as you see fit, and let me know as soon as possible the stance of the County Commissioners on this important transportation issue.”
Meehan’s letter also says that Ocean City citizens in need of medical transport do not seem to be getting the same service as the rest of the county. In Ocean City, those needing medical transportation must take a city bus to a transfer point and then wait for a Shore Transit bus, wasting time and paying two fares.
Mike Pennington, director of the Tri-County Council, which runs Shore Transit, said he offered Ocean City four options to resolve the issue, but has received no input from the city.
“I do agree it is inconvenient for folks in Ocean City,” said Pennington.
In a summary of Shore Transit’s position sent to the commissioners, Pennington writes, “It is our position that it would be inappropriate for Shore Transit to use federal and state funds allocated for its service area to provide ‘curb to curb’ service in another designated service area.”
Funds used for “curb to curb” service elsewhere in the county are restricted geographically, Pennington said. Shore Transit receives a limited amount of money to provide service in outlying areas.
Shore Transit’s four options are:
— Make no changes, which Pennington agrees is not what he would select;
— Provide round-trip service to Ocean City ADA riders, with Ocean City reimbursing Shore Transit;
— Ocean City providing transport and Shore Transit paying the resort; or
— Sharing the cost of hiring an outside contractor.
“This is a real difficulty for Ocean City,” said County Commission President Louise Gulyas, who represents and lives in the resort town.
The wait time, Gulyas said, can be excessive. “An appointment can turn into a day long adventure,” she said.
Later she said, “The difficult part is Ocean City to the park and ride. People sit out in the weather, the heat.”
“I agree there’s a scheduling issue and a convenience issue,” Pennington said.
Shore Transit needs to partner with Ocean City to find a solution, Pennington said.
“It all comes down to the money. I hate to say that,” Gulyas said.
“I think you’ve done your due diligence. The ball’s in their court right now,” said Commissioner Bud Church.
Gulyas suggested providing curb-to-curb service on a trial basis and bill Ocean City for their portion.
“Give it three or four months and see how it works out,” she said.
Shore Transit would need an official agreement with Ocean City for that, county attorney Sonny Bloxom said.
The commissioners are losing sight of the fact that Ocean City is part of Worcester County, Gulyas said.
“I don’t want to spend our money ‘til they agree to pay us back,” said Church.
“I don’t think you’re being fair to the people who need to be picked up,” said Gulyas.
Ocean City is not being fair, said Commissioner James Purnell.
“This came to you all because Ocean City bypassed the Tri-County Council,” said Bloxom.
“Ocean City is still part of the county and we still have to help them,” said Gulyas.
“It’s an Ocean City decision,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.
“We need to do something to get the ball rolling,” said Commissioner Linda Busick.
County Commissioner Virgil Shockley said action is need because the issue has been dragging on for months.
“They need our help. That’s the bottom line,” said Shockley. “I’m not for spending money we might not get back but these guys have been stalled long enough.”
The commissioners voted 5 to 2, with Shockley and Gulyas against, to send a letter to Ocean City instructing the town council to choose an option and coordinate with Shore Transit.
“I’m opposed. We need to do something,” said Shockley.
“It can be worked out if we sit down and talk to the Mayor and Council,” said Gulyas.