OCEAN CITY — Resort officials essentially ended this week any further discussion about businesses renting electric bicycles, or e-bikes, while also exploring a prohibition of the rental of all smaller, motorized vehicles.
In 2020, the Mayor and Council narrowly passed an ordinance prohibiting all classes of e-bikes on the Boardwalk. When potential ADA issues arose, the council revisited the Boardwalk e-bike use and ultimately passed an ordinance allowing only the lowest rated Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk. The 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.
The realization led to the crafting of another ordinance, which the Mayor and Council had before them last month for first reading. The ordinance as presented would allow for the rental, sale and repair on all classes of e-bikes in town with the Boardwalk prohibition of riding the Class 2 and Class 3 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.
Town staff, including City Solicitor Heather Stansbury, this week returned with a compromise ordinance of sorts, allowing for the rental of lower grade Class 1 e-bikes under the existing business license process, while making the rental of the Class 2 and Class 3 e-bikes only permissible as a conditional use approved by the Mayor and Council. Stansbury explained the essential elements of the amended ordinance.
“There was a void in the business license at the time,” she said. “The Class 1 e-bikes could be rented under a standard business license, but we are unsure how to treat the Class 2 and Class 3 e-bikes. As written, the code classifies them as small displacement vehicles. As such, it would require a conditional use to be allowed to rent them. It would require several code cleanups.”
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca, who chairs the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said the e-bike rental issue had been debated at several levels and the amended ordinance as presented on Tuesday represented a compromise of sorts.
“You know this is one of my favorite subjects,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on this at various levels. This should be a conditional use allowing for the rentals of the Class 2 and Class 3 e-bikes.”
However, Councilman Will Savage, a fireman and first-responder, said the ordinance as amended tackles only the e-bike issue and did not address the rental of other motorized vehicles such as mopeds, the low-riding scoot coupes and others that have proliferated in the resort in recent years. He pointed to safety issues with the small, motorized vehicles interacting on an eight-lane Coastal Highway with other vehicles and pedestrian traffic.
“Where does this stop and start?” he said. “Today, it’s e-bikes. In the immediate future, we’ll be talking about scooters, skateboards, one-wheels and hoverboards? What is next after that? We are going to be chasing this issue forever and, as proposed, this does not address the total issue. I think all should be banned for rental within our town.”
Savage said the proliferation of rented vehicles of all shapes and sizes in the resort represented safety and quality of life issues for residents and visitors.
“This is a quality-of-life issue for our residents and a safety issue for our stakeholders,” he said. “All of these devices would be rented if allowed to be primarily used as a thrill ride. We have examples now with mopeds and scoot coupes primarily being used as a thrill ride. Think about what we are allowing.”
Councilperson Carol Proctor agreed the rental of small, motorized vehicles, including e-bikes, was a quality-of-life issue.
“There is a difference between owning one and renting one,” she said. “Renters may have never been on one before. They maneuver differently and handle differently than a regular bicycle.”
Savage made a motion to end the discussion on e-bike rentals of any kind within the town and took it a step further to include all small, motorized vehicles.
“I make a motion that we discontinue discussion on this ordinance as presented and direct staff to present to us ordinance amendments necessary to stop issuing new business licenses for the rental of all small motor-powered devices,” he said. “This shall include, but not be limited to, mopeds, scoot coupes, electric bikes, electric and gas-powered scooters, one-wheels and hoverboards. It should address holders of existing business licenses and give them three years from April 1 to adjust their business model to discontinue the rental of the previously mentioned items.”
Councilman John Gehrig said the motion as presented painted the issue with too wide of a brush.
“This is something we need to have more discussion on,” he said. “This is dropping the bomb on the entire thing. Just because it irritates us doesn’t mean we need to ban all of this stuff. Next, we’ll be banning jet skis because they cause a wake near our house, or surf fishing because we’re worried about hooks down the beach from where we’re sitting.”
The council voted 6-1, with Gehrig opposed, to approve Savage’s motion to end the discussion of e-bike rentals and all small, motorized vehicles and have existing businesses that rent the vehicles present their business plans.