(May 17, 2019) A proposal to increase the cost of senior bus passes was so poorly received during a Transportation Committee meeting Tuesday that the matter will be tabled for the year.

Public Works Director Hal Adkins said current numbers show 2,800 resident senior passes have been issued. According to Adkins the $7 passes are valid for two years, allow for free passage on the entire bus system, ADA door-to-door service for eligible riders, and free tram ridership from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. After 4 p.m., tram fares are discounted $1.

“Of course, this excludes holidays and special events,” he said.

Adkins proposed to increase the minimum age of eligibility from 60 to 65, in accordance with federal standards, lengthening the duration passes are issued from two to three years, and hiking the fee to $25.

Hal Adkins

Public Works Director Hal Adkins during a Transportation Committee meeting on Tuesday talks about a staff proposal related to senior bus passes. The proposed changes were not well received. 

“When you look at it holistically and you look at the benefit that you’re getting, it’s one heck of a bargain at the staff recommended change of three years and $25,” he said.

Mayor Rick Meehan, however, said he would not support any major changes to the program.

“This is something that we do offer to our residents,” he said. “I think that they’re looking for a more livable community … [and for reasons] they would benefit from living in Ocean City and from investing in Ocean City and paying taxes in Ocean City.

“I’m not in favor of the increase to $25,” Meehan continued, adding he could support an increase to three years for $10. 

“I just think this is one of those benefits our seniors enjoy,” he said.

Councilman Tony DeLuca said he was fine with changing the duration and the fee, but not for raising the age limit. 

“I say hell no,” he said. “I say we want [the seniors] on our side and I think you’re going in the wrong direction. I think you should lower [the age] to 55.”

Councilman Mark Paddack said the government, in theory, “is not supposed to operate to make a profit,” and asked why the fee increase was proposed.

“This is not a revenue-based discussion on our part at all,” Adkins said. “The outcome of this, revenue-wise, might not even be worth discussing.

“It was more so, we felt necessary to bring it to our policy group – that’s you guys – because it hasn’t been looked at nor changed in 15 years,” he continued. “I could easily have sat back and said nothing, and then at some point you all might have brought it up in the coming years and said, ‘You haven’t looked at this since 2004! What’s wrong with you?’ So, we’re bringing it forward.”

Meehan suggested the matter be deferred until after the season, “rather than we get into a conversation … and make people think this is going to happen.”

“It’s not going to happen for the season of 2019,” he said. “I hate to spend a lot of time on this … I don’t think we’re going to do it.”

Councilman Dennis Dare moved to table the issue, to which Meehan quipped “until 2025?”

“I’d like to bring it back in preparation for the budget, next year,” Dare said, adding, “This is really not a money thing.

“It’s more of a personnel issue,” he continued. “To drive a bus from one end of Ocean City to the other end costs the same amount of money for one person onboard or 100 people onboard. So, allowing our senior residents an opportunity to fill an empty seat doesn’t really cost us any money.”

A motion to table the matter, seconded by DeLuca, was unanimously approved.

Josh Davis is an MDDC award-winning editor and reporter at the Bayside Gazette and Ocean City Today newspapers, covering Berlin and Ocean Pines, Maryland. He is the author of three novels, including 'Vanishing is the Last Art' (2012). He lives in Berlin.

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