Rehoboth Beach scooter riders hope their city has received the message loud and clear: The city’s new scooter regulations are wrong.
Ken Hensey, organizer of the May 25 protest, said the goal of the park-in protest was to raise awareness of Rehoboth’s new scooter laws. Scooters filled the beach block parking spaces of Rehoboth Avenue; each scooter had a flyer attached explaining to motorists why the scooter was parked in a car parking space.
Scooter riders say the city's new laws preventing scooter parking at bike racks and on the sidewalks and instituting a $40 scooter parking permit fee are discriminatory.
Hensey said, "It's not a very well-thought-out plan," adding that the city should consider allowing scooters to park on the bumpouts at the ends of the Rehoboth Avenue medians.
Toting her pink helmet, scooter rider Betsy Frahm said scooters should still be allowed to park at bike racks. She said she it would be OK if the city mandated that riders walk their scooters to the racks. But of the new ordinance, Frahm said, “I think they went a little overboard. It’s a hassle.”
The protest began at 7 and by 9 a.m. Hensey said about 70 to 80 scooters had parked. He said 100 or more scooters took part during the course of the protest, which lasted until 1 p.m.
Former mayor protests
Former Mayor John Hughes, a scooter rider since 1958, took the first space on Rehoboth Avenue.
"It's fundamentally wrong. It's prejudicial against scooters to a degree that it doesn't solve the problem anymore, it just beats up on people that come downtown and do business downtown. It makes no sense to be as punitive as it is," Hughes said.
The ordinance is also inconsistent and discriminatory, Hughes said, because the city gives him four free transferable parking permits for his cars, but he has to pay $40 to park his scooter in front of his house.
"I can't visit a neighbor on my scooter and park on city property, which is the front of someone's house. I can park my car there. I can park a Harley-Davidson. This is crazy," Hughes said.
He said the city officials overreached with the ordinance and he hopes they will change their position. Hughes said if the city wants to get scooters off the sidewalk, one of the commissioners' stated goals in passing the ordinance, they should enforce the laws that are already on the books.
Cooper: Permits not outlandish
Rehoboth’s Mayor Sam Cooper said at this point, he’s not persuaded there are any problems with the city’s ordinance. Cooper said he did not think $40 for a permit to park a scooter for the season was outlandish.
With a permit, scooters are allowed to park at designated scooter corrals, most of which are located at the beach block street ends. Like cars, scooters can park at metered spaces as long as they pay the meter.
Cooper said the city has tried to set aside special areas for scooters to park.
“I don’t think they’re the same as a car,” Cooper said, adding that before this year, scooters could park on the sidewalks. “You can’t park a car on the sidewalk. Are we discriminating against cars? Different vehicles are treated differently.”
As for the protest itself, Cooper said, “They’re free to do what they want as long as they do it within the law.”
Linda Kauffman, former president of the Rehoboth Beach Homeowners Association and an opponent of the scooter ordinance, said, "I don't know if the city will listen, but I think if they talk to the person on the street like we've been, most people don't see where there was an issue to begin with."
Tim Sullivan, who rides his scooter from his home in Rehoboth to his job in Bethany Beach, said the city is taking away the incentives for people ride scooters: convenience and high gas mileage.
"I do it to save money. It costs me $9 to fill up my tank. It's economical. They're greener. It just makes sense. And the fact that if we get popped, it's $50 for us but $30 for a car? It's a money grab," he said.
Sullivan and Frahm said allowing scooters to park in metered spaces could lead to damaged scooters and conflicts between car drivers and scooter riders. Frahm said allowing scooters to park at bike racks allows the city to have extra parking spaces available for cars.
“What it boils down to is, we wanted to be treated fair,” Sullivan said.
Scooter riders want convenience
Sullivan’s wife, Carolyn, said scooter riders use scooters for the convenience of being able to get in and out of town quickly, all the while supporting local businesses.
“We’re not looking for an all-day parking spot. We want to get in and get out,” she said, adding that few of the scooter parking corrals are near the downtown commercial area.
Hensey said people in town supported the protest. He said because of the new laws, a lot of scooter riders wouldn’t come into town this year, which hurts both the city and its businesses. Hensey said scooters and bicycles are a better alternative means of transportation than cars.
“Why are you making it less convenient to ride a scooter into town?” he said. “You’re making it no different than a car.”
When asked what he hoped to accomplish with the protest, Hensey said he hopes city officials will use some common sense as far as where scooters can be parked and look into more convenient alternatives.
As for a sequel to Saturday’s protest, Hensey said some scooter riders have indicated that if there is no response from city officials, they may take up prime parking spaces all the time. He said the July 4th holiday has been discussed as another time for a scooter park-in.