Mitchell Rovins and his wife, Susanna, catch some flak from fellow cycling enthusiasts for commuting to work on electric bicycles.
But the two, the owners of Beacon Cycling in Northfield, live in Linwood and can get to work quicker on their bikes than in their car, all without breaking a sweat, Rovins said.
“A guy I know comes up and sees me on my ebike and says, ‘hey man, that’s cheating,’” Rovins said. “And I go, ‘I’m on a bike. You’re in a car. Who’s cheating?’”
Beacon has sold electric bicycles for about 10 years, but interest in them has been “accelerating” since last year, Rovins said.
At the same time, electric scooters have spread to many American cities, evidenced by reports of scooter-involved accidents and scooters from city-sponsored share programs left abandoned on sidewalks across the country. Lawmakers have tried to keep pace with the booming startups that operate them, regulating them or banning them, as they see fit.
In May, Gov. Phil Murphy took the opposite tack and embraced them. Whether municipalities in South Jersey — especially shore points — will follow suit, is still uncertain.
The new law signed by the governor says electric scooters and electric bikes that travel below 20 mph are to be regulated like regular bicycles, allowing them to travel on streets without registration, insurance or a driver’s license.
“Electric bicycles and motorized scooters offer a fantastic alternative to cars, and their use will serve to cut both emissions and congestion in our cities,” Murphy said in a statement. “As we seek to support New Jersey’s Innovation Economy, this bill will help encourage a true re-imagining of urban commuting.”
Atlantic City isn’t buying it, at least not yet.
Earlier this summer, the resort banned electric scooters, electric bikes and electric skateboards on the Boardwalk.
Councilman Jesse Kurtz, who represents the 6th Ward, took up the issue after hearing from constituents that the vehicles had caused accidents on the Boardwalk, including an elderly man who was hit twice.
The ordinance makes exceptions for those using motorized scooters for mobility purposes and those that want to use a motorized scooter or bicycle for a parade.
“I’ve gotten reports that people are still using them on the Boardwalk,” Kurtz said. “And I think that what we have to do is get some signage up on the Boardwalk to inform people of this law, and we also, I think, need to work the enforcement of this ordinance into the patrols of our law enforcement, as well as the Boardwalk ambassadors.”
Ocean City seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach. An existing ordinance bans mopeds on the Boardwalk, but no ordinance specifically targets escooters and ebikes, said city spokesman Doug Bergen.
“Fortunately, electric scooters have not been an issue in Ocean City this summer,” Bergen said. “Adding them to (the) summer mix of pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles would create serious safety concerns.”
Other shore towns have welcomed the transportation option.
Earlier this month, Asbury Park began contracting with Spin to rent electric scooters in the city, a program operated locally by Zagster, which runs the city’s bike share program, according to Mike Manzella, the city’s director of transportation.
The program allows for up to 250 scooters, but 50 are in use as of last weekend. They’re starting slowly, Manzella said, but the scooters are already a hit.
“We have had a lot of rides,” he said. “On average, we have about 5 to 10 times more trips ... per scooter than we have had for the bike share program, which has been in place since 2017.”
Local staff will maintain the scooters, pick them up at 9 p.m. and put them out at 7 a.m. At the moment, renters can leave them anywhere when they are finished, something that has plagued other cities with programs. Soon, Manzella said, they will have to return them to designated ports.
The city implemented the program to improve accessibility for residents who don’t have cars and expand options to get around, Manzella said.
“In addition, we’re always looking for ways to reduce parking demand,” he said. “So if we can get visitors to come into Asbury Park, park a little further, and take a scooter to the Boardwalk, ... that’s a positive for us.”
There is no data yet on ridership demographics. However, Manzella said he saw plenty of young people enjoying them over the first weekend.
It’s the opposite for Beacon’s clientele in Northfield. Customers interested in ebikes skew older, including one “ecstatic” 92-year-old man.
“Some of them are cyclists that say, ‘You know, I used to go out and do 25, 30, 40 miles at a clip, and now I can just barely handle 5 or 10,” Rovins said.
Scott Chambers, the owner of Zippy’s Bikes in Wildwood, said the profile of his average customers for ebikes has followed a similar trajectory, as the tech has gotten better over the years.
He started renting escooters out of his shop on Pacific Avenue this past Memorial Day, as well. Chambers believes he’s the only one to rent them in the shore town.
The city hasn’t passed anything in the way of a ban. Chambers said he notified the city before he started renting them but hasn’t heard back.
“So I’m assuming it was a ‘let’s see what happens’ type of thing,” he said.
Younger people are more familiar with the electric scooters, he said, but some people just want to see what they’re like to drive.
“They’re easier to ride than everyone thinks and they’re just a lot of fun,” Chambers said. “No one has come back saying, ‘This isn’t for me.’”