On The Coast: Fighting The Good Transit Fight (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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On the Coast: Fighting the Good Transit Fight

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:27:23
So we just heard about the ways our seniors might struggle with housing and health care. But according to Courtney Williams, the D.C. Office on Aging staffer we heard from earlier, seniors might also have a hard time when it comes to just plain old, getting around.

MR. COURTNEY WILLIAMS

13:27:37
As far as, I mean, transportation that's affordable and accessible to get back and forth to your central appointment. And it's a challenge for some people.

SHEIR

13:27:47
And that challenge doesn't just exist in the city. Transportation can be an issue in the suburbs, even on the coast.

SHEIR

13:27:57
Which brings us to this week's "On The Coast" segment where coastal reporter, Bryan Russo, brings us the latest from the Eastern shore of Maryland and Coastal Delaware. And Bryan joins us now from Ocean City. Hi there Bryan.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

13:28:08
Hey, Rebecca. And I want to introduce you to someone who's done a ton to improve public transportation for elderly and disabled residents here on the coast, although he's quite humble on that front.

MR. BOB MELVIN

13:28:18
I'm not an expert on transportation, never -- I'm just an expert on getting things done.

SHEIR

13:28:23
And apparently, he's gotten quite a bit done. Who is this guy?

RUSSO

13:28:28
His name's Bob Melvin. And many Ocean City leaders have described him as one of the most politely in-your-face citizens they've ever met. He's been a staple at city hall meetings for the years that I've been covering Ocean City. And back in 2009, after years of pressure on local officials, he championed a change in the way the town and the county transport their elderly and disabled residents.

SHEIR

13:28:49
Well, what was wrong with the transportation system in the first place?

RUSSO

13:28:52
Well, a bus service called Shore Transit provides door to door service in Worcester County, which is where Ocean City's located. But the buses wouldn't come into Ocean City itself because the town had its own transit service, they called it a duplication of services. Unfortunately, that service only covers the island on which Ocean City sits.

RUSSO

13:29:10
So the short of it is, the people who use these services had ridiculously long travel times to get almost anywhere. Here's Ocean City's public works director, Hal Adkins.

MR. HAL ADKINS

13:29:20
Mr. Melvin's biggest concern was the fact that the majority of the medical offices, whether it's a doctor or dentist, chiropractor, whatnot, including the local hospital, Atlantic General, are not located on the island within the corporate limits of Ocean City. So it was extremely difficult for someone with limited mobility. They'd have to take our transit center -- system, then they'd have to interlink with a county system.

MR. HAL ADKINS

13:29:43
Give you an example, it might take them four hours to get to a doctor's appointment and back in Berlin. And he was looking for a smoother way of allowing that transition to occur.

SHEIR

13:29:51
Four hours to get to the doctor and back. How far apart are Ocean City and Berlin?

RUSSO

13:29:57
Only about 8 miles.

SHEIR

13:29:58
So once Mr. Melvin got involved, how long did it take before the wheels of change started moving, I guess you could say?

RUSSO

13:30:06
Well, as with anything in government, it took years. He says he started working on this in 2000, after he had to use the service after a hip replacement surgery. Since then, he's been on the phone with state legislators trying to get the money moved around to alter the service. And he's been trying to convince local politicians and transportation officials that a change needed to be made.

RUSSO

13:30:25
And even Hal Adkins admits, he as well as many other folks in town, were a bit skeptical at first.

ADKINS

13:30:31
But after listening to him and having an open mind to what he was driving at, it became crystal clear, let's put it that way, of the inconvenience.

SHEIR

13:30:40
So I'm guessing all of this had to have come at a monetary cost, right?

RUSSO

13:30:45
Well, basically the town and the county got grant money from the state to operate the program. So they had to move the money around a bit and start charging $5 per ride, per way. Atkins says it's worked out pretty much for everybody. Residents are getting a better service and the program is running at less of a deficit than it ever did before.

SHEIR

13:31:03
And this was all back in 2009. So what has Mr. Melvin been up to since then?

RUSSO

13:31:08
Well, he certainly hasn't slowed down at all. He's been a fixture at City Hall, as always. And he's been going door to door and getting donations to help elderly and disabled residents pay for the usage of this very service he fought so hard to create. He's raised almost $8,000 already, pretty much single handedly.

MELVIN

13:31:24
And we're up to about 70 percent of those that ride, getting a free service. And I’m shooting for 100 percent. And I'm still collecting until I can get close to that, as long as my legs hold out.

SHEIR

13:31:37
You said earlier, many folks have called Mr. Melvin the most politely in-your-face citizen they've ever met. Did he tell you what his secret is in terms of, you know, staying so active at age 91?

RUSSO

13:31:50
Well, I asked him what he's learned through this whole process. And here's what he had to say.

MELVIN

13:31:54
I've learned that being old doesn't hurt and using a low key approach doesn't hurt. High key doesn't get you anything but trouble.

SHEIR

13:32:02
Bryan Russo is the host of "Coastal Connections" on 88.3 in Ocean City, Md. You can find a link to that show on our website, metroconnection.org. Bryan, thanks so much for joining us today.

RUSSO

13:32:12
No problem, Rebecca, take care.
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