City Council Approves Park-And-Ride Fee Hike

OCEAN CITY – It looks like the cost to ride the Park-and-Ride shuttle from West Ocean City into the resort is heading for an increase as it received the Ocean City Mayor and Council’s approval this week and now only needs the blessing of the Maryland Transit Administration.

The Mayor and City Council held a public hearing at its meeting Monday to seek public comment on a proposal to raise the fare for the Park-and-Ride shuttle that operates between West Ocean City and the South Transit Station in downtown Ocean City between May and September.

The fare is proposed to increase from the current $1 ride-all-day to a $3 ride-all-day or $1 per boarding, which is the current fare structure of the Coastal Highway bus service. The fare increase is being considered due to decreases in the bus fare revenue and higher operating costs of the municipal bus service.

“The $3 ride all day pass will take them onto the island and anywhere on the island up to 142nd Street with any stop they care to do,” Public Works Director Hal Adkins said. “The $1 boarding takes them from the Park-and-Ride to the transit center downtown.”

In February 2011, Coastal Highway’s bus fare was increased from $2 to $3 along with an option to pay a $1 per board. At a meeting in early January, Adkins presented the Mayor and City Council with a review.

According to Adkins, there was a projected 30-percent increase in revenue from the bus system but the reality was a revenue spike of fewer than 10 percent. He said that more passengers had chosen the $1 per board fare over the $3 ride-all-day pass.  Also, the discounted ticket booklet revenue, which allows a customer to purchase 20 tickets at the cost of $15, is also down from its projected income.

At that time, Adkins made a couple of recommendations in moving forward. First, he asked for assistance from the Tourism Department and the town’s advertising firm, MGH, to create an advertising campaign to emphasize the “best deal”, which is the $3 all-day-pass. His second suggestion was to change the Park-and-Ride’s fare so that it matches Coastal Highway’s bus fare.

As a result from that meeting, MGH has presented a new ad campaign to advertise Ocean City’s bus system, which is to be re-branded as “The B” to encourage riders to pay the $3 fare and increase ridership. Along with the new campaign will come new advertising and slogans to catch the public’s attention.

Adkins started out this week’s public hearing off by reflecting on the Park-and-Ride’s history and its fare structure.

“The Park-and-Ride was opened in the summer of 2001 … at that time the service between West Ocean City and the downtown transit station was free,” he said. “It was the following summer, the summer of 2002 that the Mayor and City Council implemented a $1 ride all day pass and that is the fee structure that has been in existence for the last 10 years.”

Besides one other public speaker, Ellie Diegelmann, who asked a few general questions, an email was submitted by a West Ocean City resident, Judy Davis, addressing a couple of concerns with the Park-and-Ride’s proposed fare increase.

Davis pointed out that the many riders of the Park-and-Ride include foreign students and West Ocean City workers and the fare increase could substitute the cost of a loaf of bread or a pack of hot dogs. She added that a family of four who chose to visit the beach after parking at the Park-and-Ride and taking the shuttle would have to choose stopping at fast food restaurant on their way home after a day at the beach instead of dining on the Boardwalk.

“Because the $1 fares to ride the shuttle for the day, $4 total, has now become $12 for an all-day pass for these four individuals,” she wrote. “Eight dollars is a big difference to most families today. It may have been the cost of a small cheese pizza. So my question is what do you gain by charging workers and visitors extra money to use the shuttle. Riding the shuttle helps reduce the traffic in town and is safer then walking the bridge. What kind of public relations will this be for Ocean City? Let’s not forget the travelers on Shore Transit either. What is the cost of the shuttle increase in good will and fairness?”

Upon the closing of the public hearing, the Mayor and City Council voted to approve the Park-and-Ride fare increase.

“The minutes from this evening’s meeting will now be forwarded by the transportation department to the Maryland Transit Administration for their final approval,” Adkins said. “Assuming approval is provided the new fare system will be implemented by opening day of Springfest 2012.”