2017-04-13 / News

Mackinac Island Ponders Protection of Motor Vehicle Ban

Electric scooters and other vehicles to accommodate people with handicaps are coming under increased scrutiny on Mackinac Island, as the city sees growing conflicts between its ban on motorized vehicles and its duty to provide transportation for visitors with temporary or permanent disabilities.

The need to create formal rules for the use of electric scooters grew quickly this spring, from a wait-and-see attitude during a discussion at the rental bicycle redetermination hearing Wednesday, March 15, to an order for the city council’s ordinance committee to begin drafting an ordinance two weeks later. Prompting the urgency was a query from an off-island electric scooter store interested in setting up a rental shop on the Island.

Regulating the contraptions has been discussed for a number of years, but the city has shied away from formal legislation for several reasons. One is a legal battle the city lost several years ago when it sought to prohibit the use of an electric-assist bicycle by a resident with a degenerative disease. Another is that the rental bicycle operators who keep several electric scooters on hand to rent, say they are not allowed to demand proof of a person’s disability, so they would not be able to enforce any regulations, anyway.

At the city council’s March 15 annual redetermination hearing to distribute rental bicycle licenses among the liveries, Councilwoman Anneke Myers told operators that discussions between the city and Mackinac State Historic Parks could someday lead to licensing of electric scooters, both to ensure they comply with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and to monitor their use and abuse.

Such devices are not licensed now, either for rentals or for private use, and the city and state do not know how prevalent they are.

Renters agree that there probably are only about 12 to 15 rental scooters on the Island, and they offer them as a convenience, but consider them a burden because they are prone to breakage and don’t have enough power to make it up some of the steeper hills, leading to customer complaints.

“The reason we do these,” said one renter, Ira Green, “is, if you have a family of four, and one of them is a handicapper, they’re not going unless you provide a handicap vehicle.”

He said he requires a handicap waiver and his three-wheel scooters operate with a maximum speed of 6 miles per hour, close to the ADA recommendation of 5.5 miles per hour. The speed limit is for safety. The average person walks about 3 miles per hour.

Mr. Green also said renters are not allowed to ask for handicap information, and that only police or other government officials can do that.

“We can ask if they are handicapped, but we just can’t ask for the information” to prove it, he said.

The waiver helps, but some visitors from other cultures don’t always understand the disability laws and ask for scooters because they don’t know how to ride a bike. So, it is already tough to monitor them, Mr. Green said, even without the city cracking down on enforcement of yet-tobe drafted rules.

And without the ability to demand proof of handicap status, he added, “It would put us right in the middle if we had to license them.”

Councilman Andrew McGreevy noted that some electric carts now come equipped with canopies and cabins and make them look like cars, but Mr. Green said, “I’m not sure all these vehicles are handicap. Ours are; they will not go over 6 miles an hour.

“We all know people that zoom through this town at 15 miles an hour, and that’s not a handicap scooter. So, there’s a difference, but I don’t know if you can do anything about it.”

The city bans Segway scooters outright, being exempted from state laws that would otherwise allow them, and it regulates electric assisted bicycles, restricting them to 750 watts or one horsepower. About 90 such bikes are licensed, and police provide information about their use to tourists who bring them over from the mainland.

So far, the city has avoided licensing the electric carts that provide mobility to the elderly and disabled.

City Attorney Tom Evashevski said at the hearing that such a process would be complicated and “could open up a whole can of worms.”

“If it’s not that big a problem yet,” he suggested, “I would stay away from it.”

But the issue cropped up again at the city council meeting later that day, when an Internet dealer for RMB Electric Vehicles inquired about setting up a rental business with ADA-compliant, three-wheeled electric scooters for disabled people. The Multi-Point model she presented for review is capable of going 16 miles per hour and can be equipped with tires that would allow it to be driven on trails.

That inquiry, Mr. Evashevski said, now forces the city to consider the issue more closely. He suggested such rentals could be regulated similarly to bicycle rental rules, since the city has similar concerns about congestion, location, and safety for both types of vehicles.

The city doesn’t want to deny transportation to disabled visitors, but is worried about abuse and safety and, as Councilman Dennis Bradley pointed out, it is especially concerned about the wellbeing of the Island’s horses.

At Mr. Evashevski’s recommendation, the council referred the rental request to the city ordinance committee, and Mr. Evashevski was to review city laws pertaining to the issue.

He said the city now allows the use of electric scooters by residents and does not require a license, and, on a limited basis, it permits bike liveries to rent scooters without a license.

The city doesn’t prohibit electric scooter or cart rentals, but it can regulate them. It has not done so, however.

“Somehow or another,” he said, “we’re going to have to address” the use of electric scooters on the Island.

At the council’s March 29 meeting, his daughter and law partner, Erin Evashevski, confirmed that, while the city bans motorized vehicles, it allows electric scooters specifically for disabled people. Someone would be able to rent them, she said, but only to a disabled person.

She said the city should respond to the enquiry by saying it is possible to rent electric scooters to disabled people, but such a business would be subject to zoning, and, even in the proper zoning districts, they would be restricted to locations and activities that would not affect health, safety, and welfare.

Until the city specifically regulates scooters, she said, it can’t be more specific than that.

City Clerk Danielle Wightman, who has been in telephone contact with the electric scooter dealer, told the council that the dealer intended to contact existing liveries to see if they would be interested in purchasing her scooters, but she has not yet advanced the establishment of her own rental business.

Councilman Steve Moskwa said the question isn’t whether people can rent them, but how a business can determine who can rent them and who can’t.

Police Chief Brett Riccinto said a disability has to be defined medically. To issue permits for electricassisted bicycles, the city requires doctor certification that the person requires the device, just as with a handicap placard. Carts have been allowed without permits and on the honor system.

Councilman Andrew McGreevy suggested the city may want to limit the number of electric scooters that can be rented, as it limits the number of rental bicycles.

Ms. Evashevski was directed to respond to the prospective rental business and the ordinance committee will begin to discuss how the scooters can be regulated.

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