Council Slams Brakes On Company’s Advertising Plans

OCEAN CITY – Just days before a new private transportation
system was to officially be unveiled in the resort, the business owner learned
from the Mayor and Council he would not be allowed to sell advertising space on
the electric shuttles.

Russell Rankin, owner of the new E-Cruzers shuttle service
in Ocean City, appeared before the Mayor and Council on Monday seeking approval
for selling advertising space on the six-passenger Global Electric Motorcars
(GEM). Rankin earlier this year gained approval from town officials to
establish the shuttle service, which will transport riders to and from bayside
residences and condominiums, in the environmentally-friendly vehicles.

The E-Cruzers are registered, tagged and street legal in
the State of Maryland and will be allowed to basically go from east to west in
the resort transporting locals and visitors to and from the beach and other
destinations. The vehicles will be allowed to cross Coastal Highway, obviously
and will be allowed to travel on the highway briefly to reach marked and
signaled intersections.

City officials embraced the concept when Rankin first
presented it to them last year, but the one thing they never agreed to was
allowing advertising space to be sold on the vehicles. Town ordinances prohibit
the sale of advertising on resort taxis, although advertising is allowed on
municipal buses.

Nonetheless, Rankin has moved forward with the plan to
sell advertising space on his fleet of vehicles. The website for the company
promotes advertising opportunities on the vehicles including a “green” package,
in which potential advertisers are invited to mount their signs on the three
sides of the shuttle’s cargo box. The signs can be as big as two-feet by
three-feet or two-feet by four-feet.

Just days before the full fleet of shuttles hits the
streets for the first time on the Memorial Day weekend, Rankin made an
impassioned plea to the Mayor and Council to allow advertising on the vehicles.
Rankin explained his shuttles should not be lumped into the ordinance
prohibiting advertising on taxicabs because the two are not readily comparable.
He also extolled the “green” benefits of the electric vehicles and said they
should be given special consideration because of their benefit to the town.

Nonetheless, the Mayor and Council was not easily
persuaded and upheld the ban on advertising on the new service. Mayor Rick
Meehan said he was surprised Rankin would even think it was okay to sell
advertising on the shuttles.

“I would think you would assume you couldn’t advertise
rather than the other way around,” he said. “In all the meetings we’ve had on
this, you never mentioned it. It’s your assumption and your mistake.”

Meehan said Rankin’s business plan had never included the
sale of advertising on the vehicles, and if it had, the town would have likely
not approved the new business.

“You never gave us any indication you were in any other
business other than moving people,” he said. “You never gave us any indication
your revenue, or your profit, were tied to advertising. I don’t think you ever
mentioned it as part of your business plan. I’ve supported this from the start,
but this is a major change.”

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas agreed Rankin never once mentioned
selling advertising on the shuttles.

supported it, but if you had told me advertising on those vehicles was part of
your business plan, I wouldn’t have approved,” she said. “I’m not for putting
advertising on those cars.”