Three wheels, two seats, one letter, zero permits

Oak Bluffs officials moved to prevent local entrepreneur Jason Leone from renting "Scoot Coups," three-wheel limited-use vehicles, to Island visitors. — Photo by Steve Myrick

The Oak Bluffs board of selectmen moved Wednesday to stop the rental of limited-use vehicles in their three-wheeled tracks.

The town sent a letter to Jason Leone, owner and manager of King’s Rentals, advising him that the brightly colored three-wheeled vehicles with handlebar steering and a 1.9 horsepower engine are a different class of vehicle than mopeds, and will need a new permit from the board. Mr. King recently acquired five of the vehicles to rent to Island visitors.

“The board has indicated that it will not permit the vehicles to be rented until such time as it can review an application for their licensure,” the letter from town administrator Michael Dutton reads. “Accordingly, you may not rent these vehicles until the Board issues its approval.”

The letter says the board would have to approve any license under new or revised regulations. The board invited Mr. Leone to its August 24 meeting to discuss licensing issues.

In a conversation Tuesday prior to receiving the letter, Mr. Leone said he understood the vehicles are in the same category as mopeds, and fall under the licenses he currently holds to rent 98 mopeds. Mr. Leone is listed as the owner of Island Hoppers and King’s Rentals, according to town licensing records. He said the town’s action puts him in a tough spot, financially.

On Wednesday, Mr. Leone was disappointed to hear that the selectmen planned to block rental of “Scoot Coupes.” He said the limited-use vehicles cost $7,000 each. “I’m on the hook for quite a bit,” Mr. Leone. “It’s devastating for the company. You’re taking out my revenue. I can’t pay employees, everybody loses.

“I would think that we should have an open mind about this. I’m looking to try something as an alternative to mopeds. People may like it, they may not.”

Mr. Leone said he would consult with his attorney before deciding his next step.

Wheel, deal

When five of the vehicles appeared last week among the moped rental outlets on Circuit Avenue Extension, they immediately attracted attention. Manufactured by Panther Motors of Tamarac, Florida, the two-passenger vehicles are eight feet long, nearly five feet wide, and four feet high to the top of their dual roll bars. The 1.9 horsepower engine is similar in size to a moped. By comparison, the average horsepower of light duty vehicles, including cars, light trucks, and most SUV’s sold in the United States in 2008 was more than 220 horsepower, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Scoot Coupe falls in the category of “limited-use vehicles,” as defined by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, which are legal for many public roadways. The registry requires the vehicles be certified by the manufacturer to meet federal motor vehicle safety standards, and requires “speed on a paved level surface can exceed 30 miles per hour but is not capable of exceeding 40 miles per hour,” according to the Registry web site. They must be registered, inspected, titled, and insured to operate on public roads in Massachusetts.

According to registry regulations, the vehicles fall outside the legal definition of mopeds, which must be “capable of a maximum speed of no more than 30 miles per hour.”

The state began licensing the limited-use vehicles on August 1, 2009. Mr. Leone believes he is the first to attempt to rent the vehicles in Massachusetts. He said the only other place in New England they are currently rented is in Newport, R.I. According to the manufacturer, they are popular in Florida. The company lists 13 resort towns where rental fleets currently operate. The company actively markets the vehicles for rental fleets.

Safety issues

Mr. Leone said he believes the vehicles are safer than mopeds. “It’s a three-wheel machine, how do you fall off? They’re very stable on the road,” Mr. Leone said. “It’s going to keep up with traffic. That’s everyone’s biggest question, ‘how do we get around it.’ I say it’s going to keep up with traffic, you won’t have to go around it. If you’re going to pass it, you’re either speeding or you’re going to commit a lane violation.”

He said his insurance company requires he provide goggles and helmets, and rent only to people 21 years old or older. He cites lower rates of moped accidents in recent years as evidence that he emphasizes safety. “I think I have a pretty good track record of giving people the right instructions, the right equipment,” Mr. Leone said.

Oak Bluffs police lieutenant Tim Williamson said the vehicles are legal on most Island roads. “They are allowed on all public roadways with a speed limit 40 miles per hour or less,” Lt. Williamson said. “They are prohibited from any road with a speed limit more than 40 miles per hour.” According to an alert from the registry, “They may also be prohibited from other heavily-trafficked areas, due to their inherent speed limitations.”

Revenge of the mopeds

Todd Rebello, an Oak Bluffs businessman and former selectman, is so adamantly opposed to the limited-use vehicles that he considered a legal challenge. In a conversation with The Times on Tuesday, he criticized elected officials for not being more proactive.

“I don’t know why the board has taken this so lightly,” Mr. Rebello said. “There’s no benefit to the people of Martha’s Vineyard. On an issue like this, where for 30 years we’ve had to deal with mopeds, I think it’s appalling that the board of selectmen has not taken a more active role.”

He says the issues go beyond the safety of the limited-use vehicles. “It looks like we brought the amusement park to Oak Bluffs,” Mr. Rebello said. “What are these things? The only people who think these things are cool are the people getting off the boat, who think they’re coming to an amusement park, and it’s not an amusement park.”

The issue has attracted attention beyond Oak Bluffs. Edgartown selectmen could discuss the issue at next Monday’s meeting.

“It’s like Disneyworld,” selectman Michael Donaroma said. “Horrifying, absolutely horrifying. It’s like the revenge of the mopeds.”

He distributed pictures of the vehicles to other board members, after he saw the vehicles earlier this week. “I’m hoping Oak Bluffs selectmen have some kind of an arrangement with the licensee that will protect the rest of the Island. It doesn’t look like a moped, it doesn’t drive like a moped, it’s not a moped.”