(July 19, 2013) The Ocean City Council held a sparsely attended public hearing this week before recommending that the Maryland Transit Authority approve service cuts to the city’s bus service.
Only two people, both of them regular council meeting attendees, spoke at the hearing, which is required by the MTA, and were not in opposition to the reduction in bus hours.
“I was planning on voting against this recommendation, because people contacted me saying they were against it,” said Councilman Brent Ashley. “But now no one shows up. We’re not mind readers. If you have an objection about something, you need to be here to speak up about it.”
“To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t received anything in response to the ad that went out in preparation for this meeting,” said city Public Works Director Hal Adkins.
At its budget planning session for the 2013-2014 fiscal year this past April, the council voted to cut late-night bus service in the off-season in order to reduce expenses during a tight financial season.
The city’s original idea had been to eliminate the third bus shift of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., during which the city has only one bus on the road during the winter schedule. But a shorter 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. closure would match the closure hours for the tri-county Shore Transit system, Adkins said.
The six-hour shutdown would run on weekdays only, from the end of October or early November to the end of March or early April, depending on the city’s schedule of events.
Service would be restored during certain events, such as Winterfest, according to city Public Works Director Hal Adkins.
With all of these factors included, the savings to the town would be $45,792, Adkins said.
The cost to run buses is $78.62 per hour, including driver wages, fuel, and maintenance.
Given that it is a majority financial partner in the city’s transportation system, the state could refuse or modify the service change.
There was also some question earlier this year that the state would cut its subsidy levels to the city’s transit system if it reduced its service levels.
However, given that the MTA is already somewhat below par in terms of both operational support and capital outlay, this will not be an issue.
Weekday ridership over the winter averages 40 or 41 people, Adkins said. There had been concern earlier that the service cuts would harm some late-shift service workers at restaurants and hotels, who are vital to the local economy.
“We have no data in which we record individuals’ names or anything like that,” Adkins said. “You kind of have to rely on human interaction.”
In speaking with the city’s most veteran late-night bus driver, Adkins said, “he feels about 90 percent of the riders are single-fare, single-destination.”
Resident John Medlin said Ocean City is the only place he’s lived where bus service is 24 hours, including major cities.
Even with the cut, service in the resort would still be better than most major metro areas.
“If it’s running until late in the evening, be thankful,” Medlin said.