OCEAN CITY – The Planning and Zoning Commission is close to approving a final proposal regulating scooter rental operations in town.
On Tuesday night, the commission continued 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.
The item had 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 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 Planning and Community Development Director Jesse Houston, the moratorium states the council has determined that the proliferation of these vehicles on the streets and roadways in town has created a safety issue as no training in the use or operation of these vehicles is required.
The public hearing was continued from Feb. 22 when a letter had been submitted by the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) 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 at that time.
Houston this week provided the commission with the OCPD’s report. Scooter rental accidents have been on the rise in Ocean City since 2009 when there were 28 total accidents, 12 of which involved rental scooters and 16 were privately owned. In 2010, there were 71 total accidents, 33 of which involved rented scooters and 38 were privately owned. In 2011, there were 68 accidents, 36 of which involved rented scooters and 32 were privately owned.
Also, on Feb. 22, Houston provided the commission with a long list of criteria to consider, 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.
Ron Croker of Waterways Marina/OC Scooters spoke on Tuesday for a group of scooter rental operators besides himself, Fun Cycles, Cycle City and Continental Cycles. They found that a practice area is needed at every scooter rental in town and suggested a 20-foot by 50-foot space.
“If you give someone 100 by 100, they will make that long loop all away around and they won’t realize how to turn the scooter around in a normal sized parking space, or in an alley, or wherever they are,” he said.
Other recommendations were to have a safe secure place to store fuel, a scooter rental business be housed within a building so that it provides access to a bathroom and provide a place to conduct business and financial transactions, renters must be 18 years of age or 16 years old with parents’ consent and a valid driver’s license, inspect the rental scooters on a weekly basis to ensure the scooters are in a safe and working condition and to provide one parking space for every five scooters.
After closing the public hearing, the commission came to a consensus over the majority of the criteria.
The amended proposal based on the commission’s discussion was license requirements for rental of motor scooters, mopeds and similar motorized vehicles should fall under a conditional use of the zoning code.
A rental business possessing a valid business license as of April 30, 2012, that does not comply with the new licensing requirements may renew the license for the license year 2012-2013. After May 31, 2013, all businesses shall have an approved conditional use and be subject to the new licensing regulations.
The licensee must provide instruction and training to each customer in advance of the rental of the vehicle. The licensee must provide a training area on the premise of the business or on other private property within a reasonable walking distance of the business. The training area must be an unobstructed paved surface at least 20 feet wide by 50 feet long in order to provides adequate space to turn, accelerate and stop the vehicle.
Other conditions include activities such as driving or operating vehicles, displaying vehicles for rent, training, or fueling cannot take place on public property; when the business is closed vehicles must be stored within a building or temporary storage container; sales transactions take place inside a building; fueling methods and locations have to be approved by the Ocean City Fire Marshal and all fueling must take place outside; all rental vehicles are required by state law have a capacity of 50 cc piston displacement or less; the licensee must provide the town with written proof of business insurance of at least $1 million; vehicles may only be rented to persons with a valid driver’s license; and renters under the age of 18 must have parents or guardians written permission.