OCEAN CITY – Yet another attempt to settle the controversial e-bike rental issue in the resort was sent back to the drawing board this week with a direction to staff to explore an alternative solution.
For the last few months, the Mayor and Council have been wrestling with several issues related to the proliferation of electric bikes, or e-bikes. In 2020, the council narrowly passed an ordinance prohibiting all classes of e-bikes on the Boardwalk. When potential ADA issues arose, the Mayor and Council revisited the Boardwalk e-bike use and ultimately passed an ordinance allowing only the lowest-rated Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk at times when regular bikes were allowed.
That ordinance opened a parallel issue about if and where e-bikes should be allowed to be rented in other areas of town. One of the main concerns was if only Class 1 e-bikes were allowed on the Boardwalk, but the Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 e-bikes could be rented throughout town, those higher-rated vehicles would ultimately find their way to the Boardwalk, contrary to the intent of the original ordinance.
That led to the crafting of another ordinance, which the Mayor and Council had before them on Monday for first reading. The ordinance as presented would allow for the rental, sales and repairs on all classes of e-bikes in town with the Boardwalk prohibition of riding the Class 2 and Class 3 e-bikes firmly in place. However, the debate continued this week, especially over the potential rental of the Class 3 e-bikes, which are pedal-assisted and can reach speeds of 28 mph or more.
It’s important to note no business is renting any e-bikes within town limits. The ordinance presented on Monday would allow some entity to apply for a business license to do so. Councilmember Carol Proctor said she was firmly against allowing any Class 3 e-bike rentals in the resort.
“I’m just trying to get my head around why we want the Class 3 e-bikes,” she said. “They can go 28 miles an hour. So, south of 9th Street, the speed limit in town is 30 miles per hour and less on some side streets. These can go 28 miles per hour. I just think it’s going to create challenges for our police department and it’s a safety issue for pedestrians. We don’t have bike lanes everywhere.”
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca said considering the rental of the Class 3 e-bikes flew in the face of the recommendations from several key sources.
“The city manager is not recommending Class 3 rentals, nor is the police department, the police commission, the mayor and the bike and pedestrian advisory committee,” he said. “I think this doesn’t make any sense. I think there is a big difference between someone who owns a Class 3 and is familiar with it and someone who rents a Class 3.”
Councilman John Gehrig, as he has from the beginning, continued to assert the proposed Class 3 rental ban was a knee-jerk reaction.
“Why don’t we just ban everything that doesn’t require foot power, including renting mopeds, scooters and those little scoot coupes,” he said. “Suddenly, we hear e-bike rentals and we want to ban them. We haven’t had any issues. If we have issues, we’ll deal with them. Don’t we have concerns about these other vehicle rentals?”
Gehrig from the beginning has said it’s not the e-bikes themselves, but the behavior of those operating them that should be a concern. When the council banned all but Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk earlier this fall, they included language in the ordinance about reckless behavior.
“People can be a jerk on a regular-pedaled bicycle,” he said. “There are repercussions for the bad behavior. We have all of these other vehicles out there. It’s not like were going to see a massive increase in the market for these vehicles.”
Mayor Rick Meehan suggested an alternative to simply creating a provision where a rental company could apply for a business license to rent e-bikes in town. Businesses that rent some of those other vehicles such as mopeds and scooters, for example, are approved as a conditional use by the town. A conditional use is just that, it comes with a series of conditions on where the vehicles can be ridden and how much instruction and training a renter has to complete before being turned out on the street.
“A moped rental is a conditional use …,” he said. “Maybe, it can be a conditional use so someone just doesn’t hop on these and go.”
City Solicitor Heather Stansbury said the ordinance in front of the council for first reading on Monday did not consider e-bike rentals approved by conditional use only. She said it merely created an opportunity in the existing licensed occupations section in the code acquire a business license to do it. Stansbury said making e-bike rentals a conditional use would require going back to the drawing board on the issue yet again.
“This only allows the rentals of all e-bikes,” she said. “Staff could come back with recommendations for a conditional use.”
Meehan said that might be a way to settle the e-bike rental issue once and for all.
“If it is by conditional use, they get some training and preparation before they go out on an eight-lane highway,” he said.
There was no vote taken on the ordinance as presented on Monday. Instead, the Mayor and Council directed Stansbury, McGean and staff to go back to the drawing board and explore the conditional use alternative and come back with recommendations.