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Overnight bus service will be eliminated in OC off-season

(April 26, 2013) In a continuing effort to cut expenses, the City Council last week voted to eliminate late night and early morning bus service during the resort’s off-season.

Pending approval by the Maryland Transit Authority, city bus service will now be shut down from midnight to 6 a.m. during the Public Works Department’s “winter” schedule block, which runs from late October or early November to late March or early April.

“It typically takes 160 days to get approval from the MTA on something like this,” Public Works Director Hal Adkins said. “They have to, by law, hold public hearings and reviews.”

The city would, however, have the flexibility to reinstate late-night service for holiday weekends and events that may require it.

Given that it is a majority financial partner in the city’s transportation system, the state could refuse or modify the service change. However, Adkins said that the MTA did not seem to have any serious objections when the topic was broached at its quarterly meeting with city Transportation Superintendent George Thornes.

“George informed them of what the council’s decision was and he did not seem to get a negative reaction,” Adkins said. “There’s no reason right now to think that we would get a ‘no’ out of the MTA on this.”

The city’s original idea had been to simply 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 midnight to 6 a.m. closure would match the closure hours for the tri-county Shore Transit system.

“If you shut it down at midnight and open back up at six, you will continue to interface with Shore Transit without any additional re-scheduling,” Adkins said.

Including fuel, maintenance, and drivers’ wages, city buses cost $78.62 per hour to run, Adkins said. The average winter ridership for the entirety of the third shift is 48 people per night. The service cut, Adkins estimated, could save the city up to $60,000

“We could pay to put them all in cabs and it would still be cheaper,” noted Councilman Joe Mitrecic.

Councilman Brent Ashley, however, said the service cut would only hurt low-income, late-night service workers who rely on bus service to get to their jobs.

“I don’t think we’re ‘hurting the little guy’ again,” retorted Mayor Rick Meehan. “Sometimes, you have to make adjustments.”

Ashley voted against the service cut, as did Councilman Dennis Dare, who said the city should make larger cuts if it was going to do so at all.

Because the bulk of funding for the resort’s transportation system comes from state and federal grant monies, Adkins said the level of support to the city could be decreased to match its level of service. Given that the MTA is already somewhat below par in terms of both operational support and capital outlay, however, this impact is likely to be limited.

“Even if you made substantial reductions, you would not jeopardize your operating grants,” Adkins said.

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