Electric Shuttle Service Idea Ok'd
09/21/2006 OCEAN CITY – A local entrepreneur’s proposal this week to shuttle people from residential communities to the beach and back in emission-free electric cars caused little debate, as the town’s Police Commission approved the request.
When Russell Rankin and CleanCities.com President and Founder Luis D. MacDonald first approached city officials about an innovative vehicle taking other beach communities by storm around the country, it was somewhat unclear if they would have the same effect on Ocean City.
Though it remains that way this week, a second presentation to the Police Commission on Tuesday afternoon and reports of a successful pilot run this summer led officials to unanimously approve the request to operate the shuttle business.
“We’ve certainly sent Mr. Rankin in every direction possible,” said City Manager Dennis Dare.
The proposed operation would require a change in the city’s business license ordinance and a full vote from the Mayor and Council.
The zero-emission, all electric vehicles are similar to a golf cart in size and regulated under state law.
In Maryland, GEMs are legal on streets with a posted speed limit of 30 mph or less. But, town officials have the right to eliminate any problematic areas, regardless of posted speed limit. State law also allows the electric minicab to cross at intersections where the posted speed limit does not exceed 45 mph, which includes Coastal Highway. The vehicles are equipped with more safety features than a typical golf cart, though similar in size, with seatbelts, horns and lights.
Russell told resort officials this week he used the vehicles to shuttle residents and visitors from the bay to the beach this summer and early reviews were all positive.
“You drive up and down Coastal Highway – there’s 20, 30, 40 people crossing right now as it is,” he said. “We moved a ton of people this year.”
The idea behind the business preliminarily would be to charge households in the area a weekly fee to utilize the shuttle service. Rankin said his business would be popular for elderly people and those attempting to walk to the beach with mounds of supplies or children in tow.
“What I’m doing is targeting the rental communities,” he said.
During the meeting, Ocean City Police Department Chief Bernadette DiPino said it would not be an enforcement or safety hazard and they supported the business as long as officers didn’t need to inspect or certify each unit, citing manpower constraints.
Rich Mason, the town’s license inspector, said he was concerned about adding the electric cars to an already overcrowded roadway during summer months. He also told resort officials that younger employees would likely be in charge of the vehicles, which would need to be monitored to enforce abuse.
“My concern was these vehicles running up and down the highway,” said Mason. “If there’s going to be any problems, it’s going to be on the police department.”
Commission members asked City Solicitor Guy Ayres to draft an ordinance to allow the business to operate in town, which would also permit others looking to piggyback on the approval. The change could open the door for future modes of low- or no-emission transportation, such as rig shawl businesses, which are popular in many areas. City officials said they would allow the business to operate in town and regulate the new industry if need be.
The commission was optimistic over the new endeavor and wished Rankin luck with his shuttle service and introducing the area to the new-aged vehicles.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” said Councilman Joe Mitrecic, a police commission member.
“I’m sure this isn’t the only gentleman that’s going to come in here and want to do this.”
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