OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week put the kibosh on a proposal to change the minimum age and seasonal rates for senior citizen municipal bus passes.
During Tuesday’s Transportation Committee meeting, Public Works Director Hal Adkins suggested potential changes in the seasonal municipal bus pass program for senior citizens in the community. It’s important to note Adkins was not advocating for changing the minimum age or raising the rates for the seasonal passes, but was merely pointing out they have not been changed in 15 years and were likely in need of review.
Currently, a senior citizen bus pass runs for two years and costs $7. Those eligible for the senior bus passes currently must be 60 or older. Adkins suggested that number could be moved to 65, or the widely accepted federal standard. He also suggested the fee for the seasonal pass could be increased from the current $7 to $25.
“It’s no different than taking a closer look at all of the other rates and fees we have,” he said. “At $25 for three years, that equates to around $8 per year. What does that get you? That gets you three years of free passage on the entire bus system along with three years of free passage on our ADA service and free ridership on the Boardwalk tram from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.”
As far as raising the minimum age from the current 60 to 65, Adkins said those who currently hold the passes but aren’t yet 65 would see no changes in their plan. He said even with the age increase and the rate hike, it still represented a bargain.
“When you look at this holistically, it’s one heck of a bargain,” he said. “For individuals out there who now have a pass at age 60, we would allow them to continue to buy the pass at the old rate when they are 61, 62, 63 and so forth. They would be grandfathered in.”
Despite the apparent bargain even with the age increase and rate hike, resort officials were not keen on tinkering with the senior citizen seasonal bus pass program.
“I’m not in favor of any of these changes,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “I think it something nice we offer to our residents. We are always talking about making Ocean City a livable community and I think this is part of that.”
Councilman and committee member Tony DeLuca said he agreed with some elements of the proposed changes, but not others. He said the last thing city officials wanted to do was alienate the core senior citizen resident base.
“I think we want the seniors on our side,” he said. “I’m fine with the three-year term and I could live with the $25 fee for three years, but I think we’d be going in the wrong direction with the age requirement. I honestly think it should be 55.”
Meehan agreed changing to the three-year pass had merit, but wasn’t keen on hiking the cost of the three-year pass to $25.
“I think it’s probably a good idea to change to the three-year pass because it would be more convenient for them and for the city, for that matter,” he said. “I’m not in favor of raising it to $25 though. If you all are inclined to change it, maybe make it $10 for the three-year pass.”
Adkins said there are currently around 2,800 senior season passes in circulation. He said the proposed changes are not rooted in raising more revenue, but simply updating a program that hasn’t been reviewed in 15 years.
“We felt it necessary to bring this to you guys because it hasn’t been looked at since 2004,” he said. “There might be a point when you ask us why this hasn’t been looked at in 15 years.”
Meehan agreed there was little revenue to be gained versus the good will element of the seasonal pass for seniors.
“The money is negligible,” he said. “That’s really not an issue. I would prefer to defer this discussion until after the season. I would hate people to think big changes were coming for this season.”
Meehan then suggested just shelving the idea of increasing the minimum age and changing the rates for the season pass altogether.
“I don’t think we’re going to do anything with this to tell you the truth,” he said. “I wouldn’t spend a lot more time on this. I’d rather focus on bus ridership and tram ridership and deployments.”
Committee member and Councilman Dennis Dare agreed the potential revenue was not an issue and said having the community’s seniors riding the bus with the nominal fee for the seasonal pass already in place was not taxing the system.
“It’s really not a money issue,” he said. “To drive the bus from one end of the town to the other costs the same whether there is one person on it or 100 people on it. It’s pretty neutral from a revenue standpoint.”
The committee voted to make no changes in the rates or minimum age requirements for the senior seasonal bus pass.