OCEAN CITY – A local resident and businessman asked the Mayor and City Council on Tuesday to place restrictions on scoot coupes, which just hours before his presentation were officially made legal on Coastal Highway.
Insurance Management Group Inc. President Reese Cropper said since he is in the insurance and risk business he takes the issue regarding the safety of scoot coupes on Coastal Highway to heart.
A scoot coupe is a two-passenger, three-wheeled scooter built to resemble a mini car that rides low to the ground.
“The question is would you put your family member … in one of these and send them out on Coastal Highway,” Cropper asked the council on Tuesday afternoon.
In July of 2009, the council voted to not allow scoot coupes on city-owned roadways, namely in the area of Baltimore Avenue between 15th and 33rd streets. At that time, state law also prohibited the coupes from being driven on or crossing over state roads. In October of 2010, the council voted to allow the vehicles to operate on city streets, not state roads, until April of 2011 or until the state legislature decided the matter.
In a letter written to Delegate Norm Conway in March of this year, Mayor Rick Meehan said he supported House Bill 1167 and its companion Senate Bill 306. The bills, which were placed as emergency legislation, authorized the use of a "motorized passenger scooter" on specified highways in the municipal boundaries of Ocean City under specified conditions.
According to Councilman Doug Cymek, the bills were signed by Governor Martin O’Malley on Tuesday morning, making them now legal on state roads.
“So it is rather a moot point on the highway,” Cymek said. “We don’t have any jurisdiction out there. We do on the back roads and I’m sure we are going to have some involvement making sure they are properly parked and regulated.”
Cymek said that he and his colleagues Mary Knight and Lloyd Martin have been involved with the scoot coupes for the last few years. He said that the Maryland State Police had inspected the coupes and ultimately approved them. He added that the neighboring resort town of Rehoboth Beach allows scoot coupes in their roadways and there hasn’t been an accident yet.
Cropper argued that the city has placed many restrictions in town including surfing on certain streets during certain times, throwing Frisbees and footballs on the beach, jogging on the highway and now possibly in the future restricting smoking on the beach and Boardwalk.
“The city has grown a lot and with that things have come along and a lot of things have changed,” Cropper said. “We grow and we amend to try to do what’s right and what’s safe for the people.”
He added that technically speaking the city doesn’t have any jurisdiction in the ocean but lifeguards restrict what people can do, gambling is now legal in Maryland but it is restricted to certain areas, alcohol is legal but it is restricted to where and how it can be consumed.
“We have 10 miles here [Coastal Highway]. Why are we turning this into an amusement park?” Cropper asked. “I don’t understand it.”
Cropper compared scoot coupes to mopeds or scooters, which are also legal to drive on Coastal Highway. He said that the “horse is already out of the barn” with scooters, but the council still has the chance to restrict the use of scoot coupes on city streets and the highway.
“The town without question is here for sun and fun but not all things are always allowed,” Cropper said. “The town is getting to where there is no square inch that isn’t for rent or for rentals. I don’t think rentals of things that are not tagged should be allowed on Coastal Highway.”
The scoot coupes will be allowed to operate in the bus lanes of Coastal Highway. Cropper argued that the bus lanes already have enough problems with traffic. He said that if a bus has to merge into other lanes to avoid a scoot coupe it will impede even more on traffic
“The visibility is an issue because they are low. They have a flag but how many times have you driven down Coastal Highway looking for your favorite restaurant and missed it,” Cropper pointed out. “Why should we jeopardize insurance, damage to your cars, much less someone being injured for people who want to do a joy ride?”
Not seeming to sway the council in any way, he asserted the council could at least limit the hours of rentals on the scoot coupes to less risky times of the day, as the council did with bicycle rentals.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres said that the city can place restrictions on the rentals, but as far as the operation on the highway that’s state law.
Mayor Rick Meehan referred to the restriction the council passed regarding mopeds and scooters.
“We didn’t make that mandatory for those that own them [scooters or mopeds] individually but what it did do was address 98 percent of the problem,” the mayor said. “Sometimes getting 100 percent compliance is impossible… I would think that if there is a safety issue during certain times especially at night after its dark we can certainly do something in regards to licensing and the rental operation.”
Councilman Brent Ashley who has owned several scooters and motorcycles, says it is up to the person who decides to rent the coupe and whether he or she want to take the risk to ride it on the highway or not.
“No matter what you ride, whether it’s a motorcycle or a scooter, you’re taking a chance no matter what you do,” Ashley said. “So I don’t see the government overregulating.”
Cropper said that he is shocked and disappointed that this is the way the Mayor and Council have positioned themselves on this particular matter.
“Now when the accidents happen … you all are the ones who have to look those families in the eye,” Cropper said.