Commission Reviews New Policy For Mobility Devices

OCEAN CITY – Citing the need for a policy, members of a resort commission this week reviewed proposed regulations for using mobility devices at the beach, Boardwalk and city parks.

On Wednesday, City Manager Terry McGean presented members of the Ocean City Police Commission with a proposed policy for the use of wheelchairs, mobility aids and other power-driven mobility devices (OPDMDs) at the beach, Boardwalk and parks. In his presentation this week, McGean said he was proposing a policy that would regulate the size, speed and operation of mobility devices in those three areas.

“First of all, if you don’t have a policy then pretty much anything goes,” he said. “So we need to get a policy in place.”

The issue of power-driven mobility devices, accessibility and disability rights was first brought to the attention of resort officials last month, when McGean came before two resort committees questioning the town’s prohibition of electric bikes, or e-bikes, on the Boardwalk. He said research into the town’s policies regarding mobility devices on the beach led to questions surrounding the validity of the prohibition and potential violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Since that time, officials have debated allowing e-bikes on the Boardwalk. And on Tuesday, the Mayor and Council voted to allow only Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk during bike hours with an ordinance prohibiting reckless behavior.

McGean, however, told police commission members this week his proposed policy touched on the use of mobility devices such as scooters, wheelchairs and ATVs but not e-bikes.

“This is different from e-bikes,” he said. “The last time I brought this up, the direction from the police commission was to separate out e-bikes from what I say are more conventional OPDMDs.”

McGean noted he first began exploring the legal requirements of allowing OPDMDs at the beach, Boardwalk and parks earlier this year, when it was learned a local was using his ATV on the beach.

“A couple of years ago, the city was approached by a gentleman who wanted to use an ATV to transport his disabled wife and beach equipment out onto the beach, and it was granted …,” he said. “He has, for lack of better terms, somewhat abused the privilege. There’s been videos of him going out there by himself. Neighbors have complained he takes other people out there.”

To that end, McGean presented commission members this week with a policy that would apply to OPDMDs.

“I looked at three different areas – the beach, the Boardwalk and parks …,” he said. “Three different regulations would apply to those three different areas. Obviously, all of them allow wheelchairs, powered wheelchairs and electric mobility scooters.”

On the beach, McGean said, mobility devices must be operated by the person with a disability and that the operator must present, on demand, proof or verbal representation of disability.

Mobility devices would also be limited to a maximum width of 36 inches, a maximum length of 72 inches, a maximum design speed of 15 mph and a maximum operating speed of 5 mph. The use of ATVs, golf carts, side-by-sides and similar high-speed vehicles are prohibited.

“You are allowed to get on the beach at a crossover and go one block north or one block south,” he added.

McGean noted that park regulations mirrored those outlined for the beach, and that Boardwalk regulations had a few differences.

When bikes are allowed on the Boardwalk, OPDMDs must have a maximum width of 48 inches and a maximum length of 108 inches. At all other times, mobility devices must have a maximum width of 36 inches and a maximum length of 72 inches.

Council President Matt James, commission member, questioned if the proposed beach regulation limiting operation of a mobility device to those with a disability was too restrictive.

“Some people are disabled to the point they can’t operate a device …,” he said. “Maybe the person that needs to be transported has to be on the device, but I don’t think we should be requiring them to operate it.”

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed, noting that he would like to see the change implemented for the beach but not the Boardwalk.

“I can see it on the beach,” he said. “But we never had any issues on the Boardwalk with having a single operator.”

After further discussion, the commission agreed to the proposed change, as well as an amendment to the policy allowing those with mobility devices to access the beach using a Boardwalk access point.

“This does not have to be in the form of an ordinance. It can be a policy, which I would suggest we do,” McGean told commission members this week. “I will make these changes and draft it in a policy format to bring to the full council.”

City Solicitor Heather Stansbury told commission members that adopting a policy was the best way to address the matter.

“It’s better just to have a policy and follow the policy,” she said. “You can almost make up any policy you want. But absent of one, that’s where we have a problem.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.