Council Approves $3 Bus Fare

January, the Ocean City bus will still “get you there” but it’s going to cost
an extra buck.

As part of the revenue
increases in the FY2011 Ocean City budget that was voted through to first
reading on Wednesday, the City Council voted to increase the fare for both the
Ocean city bus to $3 and to raise the fare to use the Park-n-Ride in West Ocean
City to $2 and will earn the town six figures of added revenue in the short
term and more like seven figures in the long term.

In addition, the council
voted to trim the number of buses running from November to April, saving an
additional $100,000.

“The bus changes were
probably one of the biggest keys in us being able to hold the tax rate the same
as last year,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic. “The $300,000 in additional
revenue that we will make this fiscal year by raising the bus fare from $2 to
$3 was probably the biggest key in my mind. It was huge.”

Historically speaking,
an all-day bus pass was just a dollar from 1991-2002, before the Mayor and
Council voted (via a split 4-3 decision) to raise the fare to $2 in 2002.
Although Mayor Rick Meehan voted against the dollar raise when he was a
councilman back in 2002, and concurrently stated that his feelings on raising
the bus fare hadn’t changed since, he said that he understood the council’s
position in making the change.

“If I had a vote, I
would probably fight you guys on this, but I understand the logic behind it,
and it might be time to make the tough call to raise the rate,” the mayor said.

Public Works Director
Hal Adkins told the council that although the town expects a decrease in
ridership because of the change, similar to the 680,000 loss when the price was
hiked in 2002, he said the added revenue would be substantial.

“Based on the formula
that we use to determine how much revenue would be created despite the slight
loss in ridership, we estimate that your projected revenue over the next
calendar year by making the price to ride the bus $3 to be about $1.1 million,”
said Adkins.

Adkins’ predictions
accounts for almost a 33-percent rise in revenue despite a 18.5 percent or
555,000 decrease in ridership. Budget Manager Jennie Knapp attributed $300,000
to the town’s proverbial bottom line after estimating the revenue that would be
brought in from January, when the price hike would begin, to the end of the
fiscal year on June 30.

The Park-n-Ride price
hike from $1 to $2 will reportedly add an additional 47 percent in revenue or
$96,000 despite an expected decrease of 73,000 passengers or 25 percent. The
additional fee for the Park-n-Ride will not take effect until Sept. 1,
according to the council’s unanimous vote.

As for the winter bus
schedule, the council had considered potentially cutting the entirety of the
service on the graveyard shift (10 p.m.-6 a.m.) during the week, but opted to
trim the daytime buses on the road from three to two and the night bus down to

“We believe that by
trimming the bus schedule to two during the day and one on the late night
shift, you will no longer be able to keep the current 30-minute headway,” said
City Manager Dennis Dare, “but with the 2-2-1 schedule, you would be able to
keep a bus coming every 40 minutes.”

On average, less than
150 people used the bus during the so-called graveyard shift in 2010, and those
numbers were down significantly from prior years, perhaps enabling the council
to pull the trigger on the decision to trim the fleet, but not eliminate the
late night bus altogether.

“If you look at other
areas, $3 is still a tremendous value to ride the bus all day and all night,”
said Meehan. “We haven’t changed the fare in eight years, and public
transportation is a service that is costly. I hope that the residents realize
that we tried to do all we could not to add prices to their amenities while
balancing their budget, but despite doing so in certain areas, we got the tax
rate to where we believe they wanted it to be.”