eCruisers Eyes Return To Ocean City Streets

OCEAN CITY – Five years after initially being approved for Ocean City, the eCruisers service is once again asking for the right to advertise on its vehicles in the hopes of returning to Ocean City.

In 2007, the Mayor and City Council approved eCruisers, a shuttle service that features six-passenger Global Electric Motorcars traveling from east to west in the downtown area to transport people to and from the beach and other destinations, embracing the environmentally-friendly vehicles. The following year the Mayor and City Council denied eCruisers’ request to place advertisements on the shuttles.

eCruisers no longer operates in Ocean City and has been based out of Annapolis for over four years now. When it did function in town, they conducted business off of subscription services to substitute the revenue in advertising. They are now a shuttle service that is based solely on advertising and provides free transportation.

“I saw the article where you’re considering allowing advertising now on top of taxi cabs, which I am in support of but more importantly though I would hope that would allow me to do the same thing with our vehicles throughout the city,” Russell Rankin said. “That was the only thing that prevented us from operating in the city to begin with which is why we moved to be based out of Annapolis.”

Rankin made multiple requests to change city law in order to start operations up again in Ocean City. The first request was to be allowed to place advertising on the shuttles.

“In lieu of having rooftop advertising in the same fashion as the taxis, we prefer to have it covering the back luggage carriers of our vehicles and also on the front ‘nosecone’ of our vehicles,” Rankin said. “All of our vehicles have skylights and we don’t want to block that feature.”

The council was in consensus to allow the advertising on the shuttle service with little discussion. Rankin said he would be willing to advertise Ocean City in some fashion on the front advertising space, either posting the town’s website or a simple “Welcome to Ocean City” sign.

Rankin furthered that the eCruisers concept works because advertisers pay the “freight” to the business so they can provide free rides. He requested that a section of city ordinance stating, “Drivers shall not operate as an on-call single use or ‘flag-down" service’”, be altered so that their service can be provided. He added that according to State Law, the shuttle service will only be allowed on roads with speed limits of 30 mph or less, which would only allow them to access Ocean City streets from the Inlet up to 33rd street.

“Well we are obviously going to be a flag down service so we can go anywhere and pick up anybody,” he said.

Due to the service providing only free rides, Rankin pointed out that another section of the law, “an automobile (electric) shuttle service shall pick up subscribers, only, from central staging areas, within a residential community, and go to the destination and back, only”, will have to be eliminated.

Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said that in eliminating that section of the law the shuttles would become considered taxis and would have to abide by the same regulations.

“We don’t ever charge a fare ever, it is free,” Rankin said. “So there is a fine line between us and taxis and I am very well aware of that. We are not a for-hire business, we are strictly for advertising and that’s it.”

The council did not sway to his requests and unanimously agreed not to change the ordinance in any other way.

“If I can’t do that, then the advertising is not going to do me any good,” Rankin said. “We are not going to drive around with an empty vehicle — that doesn’t make any sense.”

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas said the issue becomes complicated when sections of law are simply eliminated.

“We are opening a can of worms here and it is not a simple process … why don’t you come back and give us a clear picture on how you are going to function?,” she said.

With that said the council decided to withdraw a motion to send Rankin’s request to advertise to ordinance form.

Rankin said he will review the city ordinance once again. He pointed out that the law does allow for staging areas to pick up and drop off passengers and he could possibly work around that.