OCEAN CITY – There will not be a happy ending for the Gakurias family this year, as scoot coupes will not be allowed on any local roadway after the City Council killed an ordinance that would have allowed them on city owned roads.
The council took steps to get more restrictive on one hot button issue, helmets on scooters, on Monday, but feared that getting less restrictive on another, scoot coupes, would be hypocritical or counterproductive. Much to Councilman’s Jim Hall’s chagrin, the ordinance to allow scoot coupes on city-owned roadways died in a 4-3 vote (Council President Joe Mitrecic and Council members Lloyd Martin, Doug Cymek, and Mary Knight in opposition).
“I just feel bad for the [Gakurias] family in this instance,” said Hall, who fought on Monday night for both the family who owns Fun Cycles on 26th Street and the helmet ordinance. “We are working on safety on our roadways and we are putting helmets and shoes on people, but I think [scoot coupes] are safer than scooters.”
Hall, normally conservative in the name of safety on Ocean City streets, was an adamant supporter of the scoot coupes and the proprietors of the business, at one point proclaiming, “I’m just trying to get a fourth vote for these guys here.” His efforts were to no avail, as the slight majority thought adding these vehicles to the town’s already crowded roadways, namely in the area of Baltimore Ave. between 15th and 33rd streets, was entirely too risky.
“There’s a tremendous amount of delivery trucks that drive in that area and you could put a flag 20 feet in the air attached to those things, but if you are driving a truck, chances are, you aren’t going to see it, so I can’t have someone getting run over on my conscience,” Mitrecic said.
Knight visited Fun Cycles last week and sat in one of the scoot coupes and determined that she didn’t feel comfortable with them being in the flow of regular traffic on Baltimore Ave.
“I was surprised to see how low to the ground they were, and I don’t think that I would rent one,” said Knight. “I really wouldn’t feel comfortable with them being restricted to Baltimore Avenue because on the southbound side, you only have one lane in certain spots.”
The ordinance would have allowed the scoot coupes to operate from 15th street to 33rd streets on Baltimore Ave. only, as state law prohibits the coupes, which are classified as a three-wheeled mini-bike, from being driven on or crossing over state roads.
In essence, ideas at the Police Commission level last week about potentially allowing the scoot coupes to be operated on St. Louis Avenue were thwarted because the Gakurias’ store sits on the ocean side of Coastal Highway, according to City Solicitor Guy Ayres’ interpretation of the state law.
“I just want to go on record saying that if we lock them into the areas of 15-32nd streets we are just asking for trouble and it seems like we are setting ourselves up for a catastrophe,” said Cymek. “Everyone I talk to in law enforcement agrees that this is a mistake.”
Oddly enough, the issue was deemed “dead in the water”, according to Jim Hall, after Maryland District Court Judge Daniel Mumford ruled the coupes to be illegal in June, but the issue was put back into proverbial play by the Ocean City Police Department in recent weeks.
“I’m a little disconcerted that the police went back there and said they could work it out, and let [the Gakurias family] think that if they waited a few more weeks it would work out,” explained Hall. “I feel bad for the family because this was dead in the water, the department brought it back and now nothing is going to change for these guys.”
Peter Gakurias claims that he and his brother Kozmas had done everything necessary prior to buying six scoot coupes for upwards of $40,000 in order to make sure that they were legal.
He cited in a prior interview that he spoke with state, local and town government and police officials who all informed him that the coupes were legal before being told otherwise, and then forced to remove them from the roads in early June.
“I know you guys are concerned for the safety, but we are more concerned for the safety,” said Gakurias at this week’s meeting. “When we rented these vehicles for six weeks, we had zero accidents, but we’ve had 40 accidents with the two-wheel scooters. These are very safe.”
Last week Chief Bernadette DiPino praised the Gakurias brothers for cooperating with the police, but on Monday, the OCPD announced it was taking a “neutral stance” on the issue, according to Captain Michael Colbert.
“We aren’t advocating them, but we aren’t going against them either,” said Colbert. “There’s good and bad points to these things.”
Gakurias told council that DiPino had asked him to install an eight-foot flag from the highest point of the back of the coupe to increase visibility to other vehicles on the roadways, as well as place maps on the dashboard of the coupes explaining where the drivers would legally be allowed to navigate to in the downtown area.
“I don’t see the difference between the scooters and bikes on the highway and these things,” said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas. “Sometimes laws don’t make a lot of sense when you let little kids with training wheels on the highways with no flags, but you single these out. It’s not right.”
Colbert said that the Gakurias family received “erroneous” information from a lower level police officer about the coupes being “allowable on Maryland roads” and noted that the stance in state agencies about the future for scoot coupes seems solid.
“The State Highway Administration (SHA) and the Department of Motorized Vehicles (DMV) were adamantly opposed to these, so at this point, it’s not going to be sponsored or promoted by any of the state agencies in future legislature,” said Colbert.
In the end, Hall may have cried foul but the majority of council remained skeptical of the three-wheeled vehicles.
“It’s a safer vehicle than a scooter,” said Hall. “I would hope that if one of my kids rented something, it would be one of these things, rather than a scooter because I don’t see these things as being any less safe than anything else on the road.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said that passing the ordinance would have “solved one problem, but created another”. He thought the ordinance needed more work but did show some remorse for the Gakurias family.
“I know you got your hopes up, and I think you are good operators, but sometimes it’s not all about the money, it’s about what is safe,” he said.