OCEAN CITY – A scooter rental business expressed concerns this week over looming regulations scheduled to be placed on the industry and how it will put rental operations out of business.
“The Ocean City Council wants to put the scooter businesses out of business, mainly because of safety concerns,” General Manager of Scooters by the Beach Sal Kraien said. “It just doesn’t make any sense that they are passing all of these new ordinances overnight just to take the businesses out of business because they simply don’t like them.”
A few weeks ago, the Mayor and Council extended a moratorium on the issuance of new or renewed business licenses for scooter rentals until May 15 in order to allow time for legislation enforcing new regulations on the scooter rental industry to be passed.
The first 90-day moratorium was passed in January once the council became concerned over the proliferation of scooter rental businesses in town and the safety issues that have occurred.
One of the new regulations proposed is the licensee must provide instruction and training to each customer in advance of the rental of the vehicle, as well as provide a training area on the premise of the business or on other private property within a reasonable walking distance. The training area must be an unobstructed paved surface at least 20 feet wide by 50 feet long in order to provide adequate space to turn, accelerate and stop the vehicle.
Scooter rental businesses, such as Scooters by the Beach, are becoming concerned over this requirement since many of them operate out of a small location or in close vicinity where such a practice space cannot be provided.
“Our policy has always been if you don’t know how to ride we are not going to take a risk by having you get on a scooter, hurting yourself or damaging the scooter,” Kraien said.
If the ordinances are passed next week, the moratorium will be lifted and scooter rental businesses may renew or apply for a business license for June 1, 2012 through May 31, 2013.
The ordinances will force existing and new scooter rental businesses to comply with all the new regulations put in place beginning this year, including the required practice area. However, existing businesses will not fall under conditional use but new businesses will.
Kraien pointed out that the majority of scooter accidents that have occurred within the rental industry last year were from one operation.
The same point was made by Councilwoman Margaret Pillas during discussion over the ordinances. She urged the practice space to be required for all operators this summer season.
“I am not happy that this is being held up … here we have all these operators who are really trying to do a good job for the town without the ordinance even being in place, and then operators that are blatantly abusing the town,” she said at the time.
Kraien feels that Scooters on the Beach is being punished for a crime they have not committed.
“As far as accidents are concerned, we only had two last year, and that is out of the thousands of scooter rentals out of our locations last year,” he said.
Kraien explained that the new ordinances will not only affect the rental industry but employees and dozens of students the company employs through the J1 foreign exchange program will be out of jobs.
Kraien added that hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested into their scooter rental business every season because they sell and liquidate their stock and start with a fresh inventory every year as a safety measure.
“I am really frustrated over this because I don’t want to lose my job, I don’t want my manager to lose his investment and the rest of the team that is working so hard they will be out of jobs, as well as the students coming here looking for work,” Kraien said. “It just really affects the whole picture.
Kraien has worked with the Ocean City Police Department to help regulate the scooter rental industry to better enforce safety.
“I know this is all new to Ocean City and the police department, and they are trying to figure out how to put a strong hold on it to keep safety at a maximum and incidents at a minimum … but to require a private 20 by 50 practice space is absurd,” he said.
At the conclusion of Tuesday evening’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, an unexpected brief discussion over the rising concern among scooter rental businesses surfaced.
Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith took an inventory of the existing scooter rental businesses and only five out of 20 comply across the board. Smith pointed out that even scooter rentals that have been in operation for years will not be able to meet the new regulations, especially the practice space.
“It’s a big issue,” he said.
The council is scheduled to take the final vote on the scooter ordinances next week, May 7.