(May 3, 2019) Measures were taken on Tuesday to ban so-called dockless bicycles and standup electric scooter share programs in the resort.

The Ocean City Council, during a work session on Tuesday, voted to move an ordinance to do so to a first reading, the first step in officially passing the ban.

Police Capt. Mike Colbert said questions about dockless bicycles were brought up during a March police commission meeting. Dockless bicycles refer to a service where bicycles are rented on a short-term basis and then returned to a dock, locking the bikes in place.

“There’s a lot of them and we’ve all seen issues with them in other parts of the country. Some municipalities like them – others are having really big growing pains with them, particularly locally in Baltimore and [Washington], D.C.,” Colbert said.

He said the commission voted to seek legal advice on the matter “because of the proliferation of these in the general mid-Atlantic area and in Maryland.” More to the point, Colbert said the committee recommended some sort of ordinance so that, if such a program came to the resort, “they couldn’t just dump them onto the streets.”

“Part of the business model, unfortunately, for some of these companies is to beg forgiveness rather than ask permission,” Colbert said.

He said users rent the bicycles and e-scooters using an app, and then just leave them at drop-off location, cluttering the roadways and sidewalks.

“They go into a market, they dump a lot of these devices … [and] they’re just left and that’s the appeal to them,” he said.

Colbert said City Solicitor Guy Ayers drafted a proposed ordinance that “covers everything we wanted to cover.” He added the ordinance “really keyed in” on electric scooters and scooters in general, but initially didn’t include the bicycles.

“I think it’s the intent of the council … that we probably need to add bikes into that as well. And, talking with Guy, that’s … something that could be done pretty simply,” Colbert said.

Councilman Tony DeLuca said he travels to Baltimore for every Ravens home game and has seen the results of bicycle and e-scooter share programs.

“It’s terrible. It’s out of control,” he said. “It’s dangerous. It’s a mess.”

DeLuca added he’s the chairman of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian safety committee and a proponent of getting bikes off of Coastal Highway.

“I think this would be terrible. Could you imagine this July 4 to Labor Day, in the bus lane, scooters, bikes?” he said.

DeLuca moved to “prohibit the use of dockless bicycle share programs and standup electric scooters.”

Councilman Mark Paddack provided a second and said he also noticed problems in Baltimore.

“The worst example of this was around M&T Stadium – these things were everywhere,” he said. “I guess people rode them to the game and just dump them outside there.

“We don’t need this in Ocean City and you’re going to get my vote for this ordinance,” he added.

Ayers said the problem with the sharing program is vehicles are often left in areas where the city has “spent millions of dollars in making our public ways ADA compliant.”

“They are not only a physical danger, they are a personal danger,” he said.

In questioning part of the proposed ordinance, Councilman John Gehrig said if he’d purchased an e-scooter, he should be allowed to ride it.

Colbert countered one of the issues with e-scooters is “they’re so new, they’re literally not defined in Maryland law.”

“I’ve heard it said that they’re invisible to Maryland law,” he said. “They have really zero restriction on them. You could literally … drive one in here.”

He said bills in the house and senate this year attempted to define the e-scooters, but until that happens the idea was to provide a blanket ordinance that states “we just don’t want them, because we don’t even know what they are and we can’t control them.”

Colbert added the city could itself define e-scooters, but that would likely later be overridden by the state.

“I don’t want to ban something that doesn’t deserve to be banned,” Gehrig said.

Councilman Dennis Dare agreed.

“What’s the difference between and electric-assisted bike and any other bicycle?” he asked, adding he saw no issue with someone riding an e-scooter to the store, parking it in a bike rack, doing their shopping and then going home. “Why would we want to outlaw that?”

Dare suggested the matter go back to the police commission for further revision.

Paddack countered the intention was simply to prevent “the sporadic randomness” of a share program invading Ocean City.

“My intention is not to prevent private ownership,” he said.

DeLuca amended his motion to remove a section of the ordinance prohibiting private ownership of e-scooters.

“This is all about share programs,” he said.

Paddack again seconded the motion and the vote in favor was unanimous.

Josh Davis is an MDDC award-winning editor and reporter at the Bayside Gazette and Ocean City Today newspapers, covering Berlin and Ocean Pines, Maryland. He is the author of three novels, including 'Vanishing is the Last Art' (2012). He lives in Berlin.

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