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Council approves Segway use for disabled, waives fee

By Staff | Jun 3, 2009

By a unanimous vote, the City Council approved an ordinance that allows the use of Segways – defined as “Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Devices” (EPAMDs) – by persons with physical disabilities, essentially concluding the long-debated island issue.

However, since the United States Department of Justice has yet to issue an official ruling related to power-driven mobility devices under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Sanibel’s local ordinance may be subject to change in the future.

Under specifications of local Ordinance 09-008, which amends the city’s existing ordinance prohibiting the use of EPAMDs on the Sanibel shared use path, sidewalks, roads and streets – with the exception of authorized tour operators – disabled persons would be required to apply for a conditional use permit to operate a Segway.

“An EPAMD may be used and operated on a marked bicycle path, shared use path and/or sidewalk, and at an intersection to cross a road or street even if a road or street has a posted speed limit of more than 25 miles per hour,” the ordinance reads, in part, “provided such EPAMD is operated by a person disabled for mobility purposes in accordance with all prerequisites and requirements established in this Ordinance.”

Sanibel resident Wayne Ponader suggested that the council table discussion of the ordinance until the Department of Justice renders their decision on the subject, or until more of the island’s part-time residents return in the fall or winter, allowing more public input.

“There’s no point, at this point, to debate this,” Ponader said.

However, discussions between the attending council (Peter Pappas absent) and the 30 or so residents in attendance did continue on Tuesday morning.

John Carney, who had voiced his support for the ordinance during previous meetings, praised the city’s actions in drafting appropriate legislation that will benefit disabled people on the island. However, he balked at the proposed “application fees.”

“You’re going to want to charge them a fee for using their personal mobility device? he asked. “They’re already going to have to purchase a Segway, which is already going to cost them a lot of money. What’s next? A fee for scooters? Canes? Walkers?”

City Attorney Ken Cuyler said that during discussions with Bill Tomlinson, Chief of the Sanibel Police Department, an application fee of “about $20” had been proposed to cover the administration costs of processing each application. The actual figure, he noted, was still being discussed.

Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane, who had suggested the council reconsider drafting the ordinance earlier this year, said, “I agree with you, John. I don’t think that there should be any fee associated with this.”

Fellow councilman Jim Jennings concurred.

“I don’t think that we’re going to be seeing a lot of applications with this,” he said. “$5,000 to get around is no small matter.”

The council also debated the process by which persons could apply for a EPAMD permit. Originally, the ordinance required the signatures of the applicant’s physician or other certifying practitioner, the applicant or the applicant’s parent or guardian and the employee of the City of Sanibel who processes the application. On Tuesday, the council agreed that persons who already have their handicapped parking permit identification may use that documentation to apply for the permit.

Under Section 4, Subsection B1 of the ordinance, the Sanibel Police Department will be in charge of issuing the conditional use permits, which will have varying expirations. Persons of long-term mobility impairment may have a permit issued for up to two years, while persons of temporary mobility impairment may be given a temporary permit not to exceed six months.

Ruane made a motion to approve the ordinance, which was seconded by Marty Harrity. The motion passed, 4-0.

“I think that it’s time that everybody has a right to use a Segway on this island,” said Billy Kirkland, owner of Billy’s Bikes and Rentals, which operates a commercial Segway tour business on Sanibel. “I will say that I probably know more about bikes here than anyone, and I can tell you that Segways are probably safer than any other mobility device or vehicle.”