OCEAN CITY — A recommendation to expand the town’s public transit service to medical offices sprouting up in Ocean Pines was approved this week, but not before a renewed debate about a service that could be provided by the county and state.
During Tuesday’s Transportation Committee meeting, Transportation Director Mark Rickards brought up the subject of expanding the town’s public transit service for citizens who have medical appointments in the growing Ocean Pines medical facility campus. The idea was first broached during the public comment period at a Mayor and Council meeting about a month ago by residents having difficulty finding transportation to doctor’s appointments in the Pines.
Ocean City currently provides two types of specialized public transportation services for its residents. There is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) service, which picks up and drops off residents with special needs to appointments and errands on the island. There is also the Med-Tran system that transports residents with special needs to medical appointments in the growing Berlin campus in and around Atlantic General Hospital. Rickards explained there was an increased demand for service to appointments in Ocean Pines.
“There are more and more medical offices in Ocean Pines,” he said. “We’re seeing an increase in requests for stops to see some of the doctors that have moved to the Pines.”
The town’s ADA transit system is limited to the island and the park-and-ride in West Ocean City. However, the town’s Med-Tran system routinely takes resort residents to appointments in Berlin’s growing medical campus and adding stops in Ocean Pines would not cause a significant operational or economic hardship.
“Adding medical trips to Ocean Pines would not affect the Med-Tran service operationally,” he said. “We’re already going to those areas. We utilize Route 90, Racetrack Road and Route 113 to make trips to Berlin and it wouldn’t change to make a stop in the Pines. It would enable some of our citizens to access medical facilities.”
Council President Lloyd Martin supported the idea of expanding the service to include drop-off sites in and around the Pines.
“It makes sense to me,” he said. “Route 589 is really building out and there are a lot of medical offices through there.”
Committee members were also generally supportive of the idea, particularly because it does not involve adding routes, buying more transport vans or any significant changes to the schedule or operations. However, in what has become a recurring theme in recent months, it was pointed out the service should be provided by Worcester County.
“Shore Transit is funded by the county and the state and I don’t remember how we ended up providing those services,” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “Shore Transit provides service everywhere in the county but Ocean City. Again, it’s another example of us paying double.”
For years, Ocean City has been battling the county over the tax differential issue, or the cost of providing duplicated services, and the transportation to medical appointments is another example of that, according to Dare.
“Ocean City has the only public bus service in the county other than Shore Transit,” he said. “Shore Transit could come into Ocean City and pick up somebody who is ADA eligible, but for some reason, we’re doing that. I’m going to vote for the motion, I’m just pointing out the inequity.”
In the end, the committee voted to forward a favorable recommendation to the full Mayor and Council, pointing out providing needed services to town residents outweighed the ongoing dispute with the county over duplicated services.