OCEAN CITY – A public hearing held this week on scooter rental businesses remains open this week until police incident reports are submitted.
On Wednesday night, the Ocean City Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing to consider including “scooters, scoot-coupes and other names commonly associated with such vehicles that do not require a state vehicle registration license” as a special exemption or conditional use with appropriate safeguards and regulations in various zoning districts.
Planning and Community Development Director Jesse Houston recalled that the item has been referred to the commission by the Mayor and City Council to come forward with a recommendation on how to regulate the rapidly growing scooter rental industry in Ocean City.
City Solicitor Guy Ayres has defined the item to be regulated as “the rental sale of motorized vehicles with a reportage capacity of 55cc (speed) or less, which are not required to be licensed by the State of Maryland.”
The Mayor and City Council passed a moratorium on Jan. 31 against issuing any new or renewal of any business licenses for scooter rental businesses for 90 days or until new regulations are passed. According to Houston, the moratorium states that the Mayor and City Council has determined that the proliferation of these vehicles on the streets and roadways in town has created a safety issue as there is no training in the use or operation of these vehicles required.
Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith explained that the current zoning regulations allow indoor and outdoor sales and rentals of bicycles in all commercial districts and if it is in a residential district it is a special exemption permit. When scooters started to become popular, the town treated them the same as bicycles as far as the rental business is conducted.
“With the proliferation and the competitive nature of the rental program and the incidents that the police have reported to us, we find that there is some need for some type of regulation to be able to maintain safety for the user of the scooter if nothing else,” Smith said.
Another concern is how the scooters have become displayed as they are spilling out onto public streets and right-a-way. The downtown area has become an area of distress regarding training and display areas since space is tight.
“How some have been displayed in the past you can see how that effects neighboring properties in how they’re displayed and utilized, as well as whether or not there is available training area without using public streets and sidewalks,” Smith said.
Smith furthered that a letter has been submitted by the Ocean City Police Department boiling the number of accidents down to negligent and inexperienced drivers who haven’t been provided with an area to train in how to operate the vehicles. OCPD had not submitted incident reports but is expected to within the next week.
“They [riders] go out into the public street and they are either inexperienced or they negligent on how they use these, and when you get up to 50cc or near it you are almost up to the speed of a motorcycle,” Smith said.
Houston added that Police Chief Bernadette DiPino has reported that scooter related collisions are up 46 percent.
Next Houston addressed a long list of regulations to consider in the commission’s decision process, including what districts to allow scooter rentals to operate in, permitted use, business license application procedures, insurance requirements, hours of operation, training and testing of an owner/operator, age to rent, approved riding locations, storage of vehicle, display of vehicles, the place of business transactions, pre-existing businesses that will become non-conforming, and most importantly training areas.
Out of the handful of public speakers, who were all scooter rental operators, the agreed upon factor was the importance of a scooter rental business providing a safe place to train riders.
“The biggest problem is that accidents happen when people don’t have training,” Peter Gikurias of Fun Cycles said. “How are you going to give a scooter to somebody when you don’t train them?”
Gikurias also recommended for businesses to have a sufficient office to operate out of as well as to provide a video to educate riders on the safety of driving scooters.
“I think we need to address that this is a viable thing to have here, it is very fun thing for people to do, and Ocean City is all about safe fun … and that is why people come here,” Ron Croker of Waterways Marina/OC Scooters said. “So when you are looking at all these things and when you’re talking to everybody I think it is important to remember that we can make this thing work. You just have to look really hard at making it safe, and making it safe means having a proper area to train.”
Commission member Peck Miller asked Croker what an adequate amount of space would be for a training area, reminding him that space in Ocean City is tight, and operators need a space that is as small as possible but as functional as possible.
Croker responded that a 20-feet by 40-feet space is too small, and 30×60 feet or 20×80 feet would be more realistic. He added that riders should be 16 years of age with a valid driver’s license or with parents’ consent, if not riders should have to be 18 years old.
“I think the overriding factor that we have heard here tonight is the training grounds,” Ocean City Development Corporation Executive Director Glenn Irwin said. “Of course, downtown is very difficult because of the limited space … you are finding all the training on the side streets. Some places may not necessarily have to be there…it is a tough position but there are some scooters that should not be where they are.”
Upon the completion of public comments, Commission member Lauren Taylor moved to keep the public hearing open until the next time the Planning and Zoning Commission meet, March 6, to provide the OCPD time to submit incident reports and the commission unanimously agreed.
“We need that information for this hearing,” Commission Chair Pam Buckley said.