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

13:28:51
For people with disabilities, getting around, often can be a challenge. The same goes for seniors too. Whether you're trying to get to work, a doctor's appointment or just the grocery store. And you don't find this just in the city but in the suburbs too. You even find it on the coast. Which brings us to our regular On the Coast segment where coastal reporter Bryan Russo brings us the latest from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Coastal Delaware.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:29:15
A little while back, I spoke with Bryan about this transportation issue and the role one made has played in fighting for change. Though he's pretty humble about his accomplishments.

MR. BOB MELVIN

13:29:25
I'm not an expert on transportation, never -- I'm just an expert on getting things done.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

13:29:31
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

13:29:52
Well, what was wrong with the transportation system in the first place?

RUSSO

13:29:55
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. So the short of it is, the people who use these services had ridiculously long travel times to get almost anywhere. Here's Ocean Cities Public Works director, Hal Adkins.

MR. HAL ADKINS

13:30:23
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

13:30:46
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

13:30:54
Four hours to get to the doctor and back. How far apart are Ocean City and Berlin?

RUSSO

13:31:00
Only about 8 miles.

SHEIR

13:31:02
So once Mr. Melvin got involved, how long did it take before the wheels of change started moving, I guess you could say?

RUSSO

13:31:09
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. And even Hal Adkins admits, he as well as many other folks in town, were a bit skeptical at first.

ADKINS

13:31:34
But after listening to him and having an open mind to what he was really driving at, it became crystal clear, let's put it that way, of the inconvenience.

SHEIR

13:31:42
So I'm guessing all of this had to have come at a monetary cost, right?

RUSSO

13:31:47
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

13:32:05
And this was all back in 2009. So what has Mr. Melvin been up to since then?

RUSSO

13:32:10
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

13:32:26
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

13:32:39
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

13:32:52
Well, I asked him what he's learned through this whole process. And here's what he had to say.

MELVIN

13:32:56
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

13:33:05
Not bad advice. Bryan Russo is the host of Coastal Connection 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

13:33:17
No problem, Rebecca, take care.
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