OCEAN CITY – The ADA paratransit services came under scrutiny at Monday night’s City Council meeting, ending with the unanimous decision that the issue needs to be examined more closely.
Robert Melvin came before the Mayor and Council to voice his concern over the transportation provided from Ocean City to Berlin. He made specific reference to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as it pertains to public transportation and the Statewide-Specialized Transportation Assistance Program (SSTAP).
Currently, the ADA offers door-to-door pick up for “certified” disabled persons. The program operates within three-fourths of a mile of your fixed route system. The SSTAP program is offered to elderly (60 and over) and disabled persons with any disability that prevents them from reaching the bus stop. The Worcester County Commission of Aging (WCCOA) formerly provided SSTAP customers in Ocean City and surrounding areas with transportation on and off of Ocean City. However, when Shore Transit acquired the services from the WCCOA in June 2005, Ocean City residents lost the opportunity for the door-to-door pick-up service. Those who were already a part of the program however were grandfathered in.
“We need a change so that handicapped citizens can get door-to-door service like we used to get when I had a hip replacement in 1999 and in 2002,” Melvin said.
Melvin complained that those who were not grandfathered in with the SSTAP program are left to take four buses just to reach their doctors appointments.
“It’s a difference of four hours against two,” Melvin said, explaining the inconvenience of the current transportation from Ocean City to Berlin.
Councilwoman Nancy Howard pointed out that the problem arose when Shore Transit took over the transportation services.
“It seems that’s when the wheels came off the wagon,” she said, asking why the change was made in the first place.
County Commissioner Louis Gulyas explained that funding cuts and adherence to state mandated regulations had resulted in the current situation.
“The days of coming to your door are over, we [the county and Shore Transit] don’t have those kinds of funds available to us anymore,” Gulyas said.
Melvin explained that the solution is to pay and/or raise money for better transportation for the elderly and disabled. According to Melvin, only $36,000 would be needed to make the necessary changes. He based that estimate on the number of people using bus transportation to leave Ocean City and what it would cost per person. Melvin explained that the money would go to Shore Transit, which would in turn provide a set number of door-to-door pick-ups in Ocean City.
George Thornes, superintendent of transportation, disputed that cost, explaining that a number had not yet been estimated. “There is no fixed number for what it would cost,” Thornes said.
“It would be very, very expensive but if we all work together for some type of solution I think it’s something that can happen,” Gulyas said, adding that the problem is only going to increase as the baby boomers age. “The baby boomers are coming. We should be ready to provide them with transportation,” she said.
The council agreed with the importance of providing for the elderly population in Ocean City, a demographic that is ever increasing.
Council President Joseph Mitrecic suggested that all of the key players and necessary information be gathered and presented at a work session so that everything could be presented and decided upon efficiently.
The council voted unanimously to move the issue to a work session for further discussion and closer review.