OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week approved on second reading an ordinance prohibiting the popular dockless bicycle and electric scooter share programs, but it appears at least one operation is already in place.
Back in March, the issue was first discussed at the police commission level and a proactive approach was undertaken. to prohibiting dockless bicycle and electric stand-up scooter ride-share programs, which have become increasingly popular in metropolitan areas in recent years. In simplest terms, private businesses often flood metropolitan areas with hundreds of bicycles or electric scooters, also known as e-scooters, which can be rented by consumers using a smartphone app.
Using the app, an individual can grab one of the bicycles or e-scooters, ride it to their destination and simply leave it where they no longer need it. Others can then pick up the same bikes or scooters and use their app to take them where they want to go. The private companies providing the service then round them all back up and drop them off at locations where there is the highest demand. They are called dockless bicycle and e-scooter share programs because the consumer does not have to go to a given location to rent them, but rather can pick them up wherever they find them and pay using the app.
After conducting research on the ride-share programs, Ocean City officials authored an ordinance prohibiting the dockless bicycle and e-scooter operations within town limits. The ordinance came before the Mayor and Council on Monday for second-reading, but it was learned at least one dockless ride-sharing operation had already set up shop in Ocean City.
“They’re already here,” said Councilman Matt James. “I’m not sure what we can do about it. They are just sitting on the sidewalk. People bring them into town, use them, and then drop them wherever they want.”
City Manager Doug Miller said once the council passed the ordinance, the police department and other town officials can begin enforcing it. City Solicitor Heather Stansbury agreed the ordinance before the Mayor and Council on Monday would prohibit the ride-share operation already up and running and any other entities that attempted to set up shop in the resort.
“Once this goes into effect, we can start enforcing the ordinance,” she said. “I don’t know if there are just a couple of them or if it’s a business. This is the first I’m hearing of them in town.”
James said he has already witnessed the ride-share operation in town.
“They leave the scooters and then other people are paid by these companies to take them home and charge them, and then put them back out on the street somewhere,” he said.
Mayor Rick Meehan said in addition to the ordinance in front of the council, there was no business license category for the ride-share operation in the town’s license structure. He agreed the point of the ordinance was to get something on the books before they inevitably proliferated.
“That’s specifically what we were trying to prohibit with this,” he said. “We wanted to be out in front of it.”
It’s important to note the ordinance as written does not prohibit private ownership of the electric bicycles and scooters. Councilman Mark Paddack said he also had seen electric bicycles operating in town.
“The ordinance doesn’t prohibit private ownership of these bicycles and I’ve seen at least two of them,” he said. “My first thought was that they were stolen from some other jurisdiction and brought down here and put out on the street.”
The council passed the ordinance on second reading unanimously.
Stansbury said with the ordinance on the books, it can now be enforced, including the operation that is already up and running.
“We will eventually track down the company that brought them down here and explain to them that they are prohibited,” she said. “We will work on enforcing this. If we have to, we can impound them.”
According to the language in the ordinance, “it shall be unlawful to park, place, store, exhibit, demonstrate, sell, rent or offer to rent any bicycle or e-scooter which is utilized as part of a dockless ride-share program on any street, sidewalk, square, avenue, alley or within any park or other publicly-owned property within the corporate limits of Ocean City.”
According to the ordinance, a violation of the ordinance would result in a $500 fine for each occurrence. In addition, enforcement of the ordinance does not fall entirely on the police department. Language in the ordinance states it can be enforced by any town department or employee, whom would have the authority to remove any ride-share bicycle or e-scooter found in violation of the ordinance.