Divided OC Council Approves E-Bike Rentals

OCEAN CITY – A divided council this week agreed to drafting an ordinance that would, if approved, allow for the rental of electric bicycles, or e-bikes, in the resort.

For the last couple of months, the Mayor and Council have been wrestling with several issues related to the proliferation of e-bikes. In 2020, the Mayor and Council narrowly passed an ordinance prohibiting all classes of e-bikes on the Boardwalk at all times, including the hours when regular bicycles and other pedal-assisted vehicles are allowed.

After considerable debate, the council voted last month to allow only the Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk at times when other bicycles are allowed.

While all agreed the Class 3 e-bikes, potentially the fastest of the three classes of e-bikes, would not be appropriate on the Boardwalk, there was considerable discussion about allowing the Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on the Boardwalk. The council ultimately voted to allow only the Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk at times when other bicycles are allowed.

However, left open-ended was the issue of allowing e-bike rentals, sales and repairs of any class of e-bike in the resort.

During the prior debate, there was briefly a motion on the floor to prohibit the rental of any e-bikes in town, but it failed to pass. As a result, there was no clear rules in the code regarding the rental of any class of e-bike.

After consulting with the police department and the Ocean City Police Commission, City Manager Terry McGean on Tuesday presented a proposal that could potentially allow for the rental of Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes in town, but not the higher-powered Class 3 e-bikes.

He said if it was the council’s desire to do so, it would require the city solicitor to craft an ordinance affecting the change. For the record, currently there are no businesses in town renting e-bikes.

“Hopefully, this is the last task in the never-ending e-bike saga,” he said. “When the ordinance failed in October, that left us in a gray area where no e-bikes can be rented at all in town regardless of the type. If the council desires to allow Class 1, Class 2 or even Class 3 e-bikes to be rented in town, there needs to be an ordinance to correct that.”

McGean said the issue of allowing certain classes of e-bikes on the Boardwalk was similar but separate from the e-bike rental issue.

“This was intended to be a companion ordinance for the Boardwalk ordinance, but it failed,” he said. “Technically, there is no business license in the code for e-bikes. It would have to come before the Mayor and Council.”

City Solicitor Heather Stansbury agreed e-bike rentals were a separate issue from the Boardwalk and needed to be addressed through the ordinance process if that was what the majority of the council desired.

“We could add e-bikes to the definition in the code,” she said. “It would be a new ordinance with the Boardwalk issue no longer in play. That part is done. The business license office doesn’t know if it can issue a license to rent e-bikes as it stands now.”

Mayor Rick Meehan voiced some concern about the proliferation of e-bikes on Coastal Highway and the town’s other roadways when considering everything else that is currently allowed, including the low-riding scoot coupes, mopeds and scooters.

“Sometimes, we need to look at something from the 20,000-foot view,” he said. “We have seen the scoot coupes and we’ve seen the same thing with the mopeds. Let’s not create our own problems. I know we don’t like to make laws if they are not needed. Hopefully I’m wrong on this one, but I do have concerns.”

However, Councilman John Gehrig pointed out there is no hard evidence available to suggest e-bikes are any more dangerous than the myriad of other vehicles allowed on the town’s roadways.

“We have had zero incidents,” he said. “We have zero data. It’s not our job to make decisions on arbitrary laws. Currently, there is no one renting e-bikes anywhere in town. To regulate at this point is premature.”

Gehrig suggested if a problem with e-bike rentals arises, the issue can be addressed at that time.

“Why don’t we wait until we have an incident before we begin to regulate it?” he said. “There are people currently riding e-bikes in town that haven’t caused any harm. We’ve already decided on the Boardwalk issue, but this is different.”

Stansbury reiterated there is currently nothing in the town code to regulate the rental of e-bikes, nor is there a section that defines them.

“They are bicycles in the sense they are not a scooter,” she said. “Your code distinctly separates them. If you want to include e-bikes in the definition, you need to craft an ordinance to do so.”

Councilmember Carol Proctor pointed out allowing any e-bike rentals could create enforcement challenges for the police department in how they differentiate between the different classes of e-bikes.

“I just think it creates a nightmare for our police department,” she said. “These Class 3 e-bikes can go 40 miles per hour. I just don’t think we should have them in town at all.”

Meehan reiterated his concern about the proliferation of e-bike rentals. Currently, privately-owned e-bikes are allowed essentially where other bicycles are allowed, with the exception of the recently-passed ordinance allowing only the Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk.

“I’m worried about the rentals,” he said. “We’ve had trouble with these other vehicles. We need to keep an eye on the proliferation of these, especially if they are rentals.”

Gehrig said it appears some on the council already had pre-conceived notions about the potential dangers of e-bikes on the roadways despite allowing other rental vehicles.

“If we’re focused on a danger, how did we let those little scoot coupes about a foot off the ground to be allowed?” he said. “How many people on those have been hurt or worse? I haven’t heard a single complaint about an e-bike.”

Gehrig said the e-bike rental issue could be revisited if and when a problem arises.

“We can totally revisit this if a problem arises,” he said. “So far, I haven’t heard of any problems. Why are we banning something just because we think we don’t like them.”

Councilman Will Savage, who is a firefighter-paramedic, said he has seen first-hand the dangers of certain classes of e-bikes on the roadways.

“I prefer banning them,” he said. “It’s just going to cause more problems or intensify the problems we already have.”

He continued, “I witness everyday groups of 10 people zooming up and down Coastal Highway. The police do the best they can. You have to be at least 16 years old to ride them. We’re going to have people zooming up and down the highway fresh out of high school. I’m in favor of banning them all. We don’t need them on the highway.”

Councilman Frank Knight said he had greater concerns about the proliferation of other rental vehicles on the town’s roadways including the low-riding scoot coupes.

“I find the scooters far more dangerous than e-bikes,” he said. “The mopeds and scoot coupes are a lot more dangerous. They can go 40 miles per hour, and they can and do go in and out of traffic. Right now, there is no business model for renting them. I don’t have a problem with the Class 1’s and the Class 2’s, but I do have a problem with the Class 3’s.”

After considerable debate, the council voted 4-3 with Gehrig, Council President Matt James, Knight and Councilman Peter Buas in favor, and Council Secretary Tony DeLuca, Proctor and Savage opposed to allow for the rental, sales and repairs of all classes of e-bikes in the resort and directed staff to craft an ordinance to affect the change.

The limitation of just the Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk was already passed by ordinance.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.