Panama City Beach Considers Policy Changes for Scooter Rental Businesses

There are numerous options for entertainment and recreation in our region, offering alternatives for visitors and residents alike. As a Panama City injury law firm, we know this variety is essential to helping our tourism industry and our local economy as a whole to thrive. Yet, it is also important to remember that regulations are needed to help balance the economic rights of business and clients, and they are important for ensuring the safety of everyone who enjoys our region.

The News Herald is covering local discussions about scooter rentals, a topic that took center stage at last Thursday's Panama Beach City Council meeting. The primary focus was a 20-year-old ordinance that governs security deposits charged by rental companies. Under the current system, scooter rental businesses may not charge deposits in excess of $100. Companies are required to obtain a specific, separate waiver in order to engage in cross-collateralization of group security deposits.

Cross-collateralization means that the deposit paid by a group member can be applied to damage that occurs to the scooter rented by another person in the group. For example, if six people in a group each rented a scooter and each paid a $100 deposit, a company using cross-collateralization could retain all six deposits and apply $600 to cover damage to a single scooter.

Police Chief Drew Whitman of the Panama City Beach Police Department told council members that renters, particularly young people, often fail to understand the possible implications of signing the waiver. He said that companies just add the waiver to the forms needed for a rental and called the practice unfair to those renters and the overall community. A proposed amendment would forbid cross-collateralization and limit damage charges to only $100 per bike.

While Chief Whitman argued in favor of an industry-wide change, he did note that one rental company accounted for the majority of the complaints. That company, California Cycles, has five locations and rents scooters, scoot coupes, motorcycles, and electric carts. Colleen Swab, the company's owner, said her company was being unfairly called out. She defended the practice of cross-collateralization, telling the council that businesses need the protection in order to stay operational.

She noted that some rental vehicles can cost over $10,000, saying that limiting the deposit to $100 is unfair to businesses. According to Swab, her company will sometimes lower deposits to make it affordable for younger customers to ride and added that eliminating the waivers entirely would mean a loss of those rentals. Swab said that the industry would be willing to work on a policy change, but that it needs to be fair to business owners too, and that people who are 18-years-old or older need to be held responsible for contracts that they sign.

We are members of the Bay County community and hope that the council is able to find a compromise that balances the interests of businesses and customers, holding all parties responsible while protecting consumers against unfair business practices. We also hope that any discussion of scooters and similar recreational vehicles includes attention to safety. Riders should be responsible for safe operation, and owners should be responsible for maintaining equipment that is workable and meets safety standards.

If you have been injured by a scooter in Panama City, please call The Pittman Firm. We understand that cars are not the only vehicles that can cause injury, either to a rider or a bystander, and we have the experience to help you recover compensation for your injuries.

For information of safe operation of scooters and similar vehicles, see Consumer Reports' "Safety Tips for Two-Wheelers" and Geico's Scooter Safety.

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