OCEAN CITY – Robert Melvin’s simple plea to the Mayor and City Council does not appear to have a simple solution, even after the third try.
Melvin, a local handicapped resident who utilizes the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) vans that Ocean City provides, came to City Hall for a third time in recent months to try to coerce the council to fix what he calls a “problem system in need of a solution.”
Melvin thinks that the current system is not efficient, citing that it often takes him upwards of four hours to get back and forth to Berlin for a doctor’s appointment. He has come before Mayor and City Council on several occasions with ideas to remedy the issue.
On Monday, Melvin suggested that the town’s ADA committee raise funds, much like those raised for the beach wheelchair program, and use that money to pay for a better service.
“We are boxed in on funding. We can’t use ADA funding, and we don’t get any SSTAP (Special Statewide Transportation Assistance Program) funding,” said Melvin. “Shore Transit provides eight miles of roundtrip service for us, and if we took over that service then perhaps we could get some of that funding of the SSTAP from the county. I don’t like to use the colloquial expression ‘the shaft’, but we aren’t getting any state money at all.”
Since 2002, Ocean City and Shore Transit, along with many others, receive $110,000 a year to operate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) programs. According to the Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA), Shore Transit received a grant for $362,015 for their 2009 SSTAP. Of that grant, the state paid $269,015 and Shore Transit’s share is $93,000.
Yet, the problem for Ocean City residents who use the ADA bus system is that they must switch to a Shore Transit bus at either the north or south end of town, and though the Shore Transit buses take them to their destinations, they will not drop them off at their Ocean City homes.
It should be noted, that every other town or municipality in Worcester County has a door-to-door ADA service with the exception of Ocean City.
Council President Joe Mitrecic made it clear that there was a way for residents to get where they needed to go, but conceded that it wasn’t the most efficient.
“The service is there, but I realize that it’s not the most convenient of services,” said Mitrecic.
Transportation Superintendent George Thornes said that the system was inconvenient but dispelled any notions that the current system was broken in any way.
“It is inconvenient to people,” said Thornes, “but in order to make it more convenient, it would take a lot of money and at this point government can only do so much.”
Melvin claimed that Shore Transit told him that the eigh-mile roundtrip service from Berlin to Ocean City costs on average of $50 per person, and at 311 passengers last year, the total cost of the service was approximately $16,000.
“I’m pretty sure that we’ve spent that just on conversation,” said Melvin.
Public Works Director Hal Adkins said via email that the issue that Melvin is presenting could become a bit confusing to many and that if anything was to be done to alter the current system, that the Mayor and City Council would have to intervene on the county level.
“You have to be very cautious in the use of the wording for ‘ADA Funding’ and the use of the wording of ‘SSTAP’ for medical transport,” said Adkins. “One slip on the use of specific terminology can and will mean something totally different to the listener on the other side of the table and then the line of communication will fall apart without the participants even realizing it.”
It seemed the council truly did want to help Melvin, but the fact remains that there appears to be little that they can really do unless they can convince the county, who distributes all of the state funding for this matter.
Mayor Rick Meehan, on the other hand, wasn’t convinced that this was an issue that the town should get involved in.
“I’m not sure that I want the town to get into something new here, but I think Mr. Melvin has been here enough times where we need to get some answers for him, said Meehan.
Despite the council’s efforts, the main issue is the money, and until the funds are dispersed differently, the length of time that ADA users need to allot before going to the doctor’s office may still be quite high.
“It is my personal opinion we will simply go round and round on the overall issue,” said Adkins.