OCEAN CITY — When it comes to state funding for public transportation, it’s the size of Ocean City’s resident population, and not the number of riders the town carries during the peak summer months, that influences decisions, resort officials learned this week.
The Transportation Committee met on Tuesday with Beth Krieder, Director of the state’s Locally Operated Transit Systems (LOTS) program, to discuss Ocean City’s annual operating grant assistance levels. During the meeting, Public Works Director Hal Adkins said the discussion of increasing state funding for public transportation in Ocean City, whose buses and trams carry over three million riders, comes up each year and each year the answer is the same.
“”We’ve had this same discussion for years, and it hasn’t changed much over the years,” he said. “By definition, we’re a rural transit system with a population under 50,000 and that has impacted the level of funding we receive.”
Krieder agreed Ocean City was somewhat of an anomaly with its population spiking to the second largest city in the state during the summer months, but the formula is not based on ridership.
“You have three million riders basically in nine months,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s not the number of people you carry. The under-50,000 rural transit system designation sets your funding eligibility.”
However, Krieder said there is some flexibility in the state’s mass transit allocations to local jurisdictions and she might be able to rearrange some funding to meet the resort’s needs going forward.
“Next year, we’re hoping to meet some of your unmet capital needs,” she said. “Tell us what you truly need for operating and capital and when we try to come up with funds, maybe we have some flexibility.”
Councilperson and Transportation Committee member Mary Knight asked if there were any opportunities for federal subsidies, but Krieder explained seeking federal funds could lead the resort down a path it didn’t want.
“The feds require more specific information and you have to report directly to them,” she said. “They have urban, small urban and rural designations, but you would have to apply to the Census Bureau and they were not very sympathetic to southern Maryland when they attempted it.”
Krieder said the resort could pursue federal funding for mass transit capital and operating expenses, but it was a slippery slope. Instead, she promised to explore creative ways to meet Ocean City unique needs.
“It’s a hard decision,” she said. “If I were sitting in that chair, I think that moving forward I would stay put. I might have some flexibility to increase your funding. Historically, you’re flat-funded. We might see some more flexibility, but not a lot more money.”
Councilman and Transportation Committee member Dennis Dare urged Krieder to work with Adkins and the resort’s transportation officials to find other pots of money to meet the resort’s needs and called into question the rural designation for Ocean City.
“I don’t know of any other town of 7,000 that needs 50 buses and 200 bus drivers,” he said.
Krieder was sympathetic to the town’s plight and told committee members she would explore options.
“We realize you carry three million riders a year and really only do it in nine months. Obviously, you’re a little abnormal when it comes to population,” Krieder said.