(May 16, 2014) Although not altogether negative, the city gave a somewhat muddled reception this week to a new type of Boardwalk rental vehicle known as the “Trikke,” keeping the three-wheeled, electric-powered devices in legal purgatory until the city solicitor can weigh in.
The city’s Police Commission heard the pitch this week from local entrepreneur Bryant Hungerford, who is a dealer for the vehicles’ manufacturer and rents them at similar venues in Florida.
“It has a third wheel, which gives it more stability than a Segway,” Hungerford said. “Since you’re standing up, it is substantially more visible than a banana bike and takes up less space than a surrey.”
Although elected officials seemed to think the idea was feasible from a practical viewpoint, the Ocean City Police Department pressed that they had every reason to waylay Hungerford from a legal standpoint, given the discord between state, federal, and local classifications of the vehicle.
“Someday, you may well see the Trikke defined in the Maryland Transportation Article, but at this point it is not,” said Lt. Scott Harner, the OCPD’s head of traffic enforcement.
“Whatever you consider to be feasible and safe is what should matter,” Hungerford told the commission. “I’d like to see it happen based on the practicality, rather than me making a legal case for it.”
The Trikke is best described as a set of skis with three wheels and a steering handle. Two runners each have a wheel at the back, and are joined at the front with a third wheel, where a t-shaped grip is mounted.
On the manual version of the vehicle, the rider stands on the runners and arcs their body from side to side to build momentum. But there is also an electric-powered version that one can simply stand on and go.
The former was considered to be a bad idea by the commission, given the sweeping motion required and the cramped quarters of the Boardwalk during a summer morning. But Hungerford would only be renting out the electric version, which would have power limiters restricting the vehicles to no more than nine miles per hour.
“[The manual vehicles] are what I thought you wanted and I would’ve been opposed to that,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “But these seem much more reasonable.”
Logistically, the only major concern was general congestion on the Boardwalk, given the popularity of bicycle rentals and all the permutations thereof, such as the reclined “banana” bikes and multi-person surreys.
“We’ve reached the point where I think we’re saturated,” said Commission Chair Doug Cymek. “I’d like to know how many accidents are happening before we add something else to the mix.”
“I don’t think it’s equitable to single out my vehicle,” Hungerford responded. “It would be the only vehicle eliminated due to congestion or quantity…even though it is clearly safer than the others.”
Crucially, he noted, the Trikke features modern construction including high-powered disc brakes, giving it the ability to stop on a dime as demonstrated by a video Hungerford had made himself on the Boardwalk. Many surreys, on the other hand, need several feet to come to a complete halt.
“I don’t think that it adds to [the congestion],” Meehan said. “It replaces something else. There are only so many people and it just depends on what’s popular right now.”
Apart from trying to prove the Trikke’s merits in practice, Hungerford also presented the commission with a legal argument that the vehicles should be permitted – at least under federal guidelines.
As Hungerford pointed out, federal statutes on disability recommend that so-called “low-powered electric vehicles” be regulated in the same manner as bicycles. Hungerford provided a letter from the state’s Attorney General concurring that the devices qualified as such and should be regulated as per the federal statue. They would not need to be registered as motor vehicles with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.
However, Harner said, the state’s traffic law does not strictly define a device such as the Trikke, which would likely be classified as a “motorized minibike” for traffic purposes. Even if not required to have a license and registration, the vehicle would still not meet the qualifications for a bicycle or for an “electronic personal assistive mobility device,” or EPAMD.
EPAMD is the definition under state traffic code for Segways, which are treated as pedestrians for enforcement purposes.
“The result of my conversations with the Motor Vehicle Administration is that [Trikkes] would be a ‘motorized minibike,’” Harner said. “This device is not defined as a pedestrian, like a Segway is, and thus still opens itself up to the prohibitions on motorized vehicles.”
Similarly – and most crucially – the Trikke would not meet the letter of the city’s definition for EPAMDs, which are allowed on the Boardwalk during the same hours as bicycles. To be considered as such, the device must have “two non-tandem wheels” and be “self-balancing.” Thus, a city code amendment would be required regardless to allow the new vehicle.
“I think we have to have the City Solicitor’s involvement,” Cymek said.
But before anyone debated the legal nitty-gritty further, Meehan said, the commission should make a determination based on the merits of the Trikke itself.
“Let’s determine that first of all,” Meehan said. “I’d like to just see us test it out.”