(Nov. 8, 2013) City transportation authorities have found no further cause for concern after investigating a new account of the fire that destroyed a city bus in August, 2012.
“It appears the fire started on the left side of the engine compartment,” city Transportation Superintendent George Thornes wrote this past week. “Immediately after this fire, busses of the same make and model were placed out of service. “
On Aug. 6 of last year, just after 6 a.m., city police and fire personnel were called to Golf Course Road in West Ocean City for a vehicle fire. A city shuttle bus, on its route between the Inlet, White Marlin Mall, and Park-and-Ride, had apparently burst into flames.
Although the fire destroyed the vehicle, the bus’s driver and sole passenger were unharmed, and news of the incident soon faded.
Last September, the passenger of the bus, Lawrence Ryder, wrote a letter to this newspaper and to city officials lamenting the lack of attention to the incident. After the fire, Ryder said no one from the city had spoken with him, or even acknowledged that he had been a witness to the incident. He waited in the rain for the next available Shore Transit bus to arrive to take him back to Salisbury.
“It has been over a year now,” Ryder wrote. “I have yet to hear from the Ocean City bus line. All I want to know is why I was ignored and left standing in the pouring rain?”
Even more troubling, Ryder said, was the fact that the bus’ driver had been told to continue his run even though he had radioed several times to the dispatch center that the bus smelled like it was burning and was performing erratically. Ryder and the driver exited the bus only after the flames erupted.
After Ryder’s letter, Thornes re-investigated the incident, but said last week that he found no evidence of mis-judgement.
“Employees are taught to recognize a possible threat or danger and how to respond accordingly,” Thornes wrote. “The evacuation process is also a part of their training. Bus drivers are the captains of their ship; they have to make the decision for any given situation while on the street.”
Ryder had also claimed that he had been told of buses of the same model experiencing similar traumatic problems.
However, the city has found no reason to believe that any of its remaining buses pose a threat.
“The [Ocean City] Service Center inspected all these busses, paying particularly close attention to electrical wiring, fuel lines, oil or fuel leaks,” Thornes said. “The Ocean City Fire Department, the Maryland State Police Commercial Truck Division, along with Ocean City’s Fleet Manager inspected the burned bus. An exact cause of the fire has not been determined.”
“As far as other busses of the exact same make, model, and year, the manufacturer is not aware of any fires. This particular bus has not been recalled by the manufacturer or recommended to be by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”
Although run by the city’s Public Works Department, Ocean City’s bus service falls under the purview of the Maryland Transit Authority, which shoulders 90 percent of the service’s annual capital costs – namely bus replacement – of around $3.5 million.
The city itself contributes around $1.85 million each year to cover the system’s remaining operating costs. Despite this expense, Ocean City’s bus service is a significantly better revenue-generator than most other MTA systems.
The operation is projected to bring in $2,443,618 in fare revenue this fiscal year, meaning that ridership pays for 46 percent of the operation. This ratio, known as the fare box recovery ratio, is generally seen as a gauge of how effective a public transportation system is.
Ocean City is the state’s fourth-largest public transportation network, behind the City of Baltimore and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. However, those systems have fare box recovery ratios of 36, 20, and 10 percent, respectively.