Oak Bluffs selectmen balance Segway tours and fishing pier concerns

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First it was “Scoot Coupes,” now it is Segways. A Boston-based group outlined to selectmen a proposal to conduct Segway tours in Oak Bluffs. Selectmen were skeptical.

Kate Richards of Boston Segway Tours told the selectmen Tuesday that as many as five people and a guide would travel in a tour group on the two-wheel self-balancing vehicles. The electric-powered Segways can travel up to 12 miles per hour.

Two-hour guided tours in the Boston area cost $94.50 per person. The group said it became interested in offering Segway tours in Oak Bluffs after loaning two of the vehicles to the Oak Bluffs police department for trial use by traffic officers and for in-town patrols.

Ms. Richards said the plan is in a very preliminary stage, but they have discussed possible routes and sightseeing destinations with the police department and representatives of the Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association.

Company officials told selectmen the company stresses safety and training.

“Every tour gets a mandatory half-hour of training,” Boston tour manager Evan O’Brien said. “How to ride a Segway safely, all the different rules of the community.” He said all riders would be required to wear helmets, and all are provided with a radio to communicate with the tour guide.

Selectmen were somewhat skeptical about how a group of Segway vehicles could operate safely during summer congestion. Yet to be determined is whether the vehicles will be allowed on sidewalks, on streets, or on bike paths.

Selectmen took no action on the proposal, but asked that police chief Erik Blake research how the vehicles have worked in other towns, including safety records, and report to the board.

At the Edgartown annual town meeting in April, voters approved a new by law crafted by then police chief Paul Condlin to regulate Segway vehicles in Edgartown. At that meeting, Chief Condlin explained that he had received a request from a tour operator who proposed to use Segways to provide tours of Edgartown. He said he did not think it was a good idea for Edgartown, and had proposed the bylaw restricting use of the devices as a way to get ahead of a potential problem. Voters agreed with the chief. The new bylaw restricts use to licensed drivers during daylight hours and only with the permission of the police chief.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, selectmen declined to take any action on a proposal from Jason Leone to rent “Scoot Coupes” from King’s Rental, his moped rental business on Circuit Avenue Extension. The board earlier sent a letter telling Mr. Leone he could not rent the “limited use vehicles” without a licensing and permitting process that has yet to be defined.

The three-wheel, 1.9-horsepower vehicles are capable of traveling more than 30 miles per hour, but less than 40. According to Oak Bluffs police, they would be prohibited from any Island road where the speed limit is higher than 40.

Dominick Livotte, president of Panther Motors, the manufacturer of Scoot Coupes, traveled from the company’s Florida headquarters to make a presentation to the board. He said the vehicles would be equipped with GPS voice technology, that would warn a driver who ventured onto a prohibited road, remind them of safety precautions, guide them along approved routes, and note historic sites.

Selectman Kathy Burton said she is concerned about safety records and whether the vehicles will block traffic.

“While they look like a small car,” Ms. Burton said, “they have moped controls, moped brakes. I’m having a hard time picturing it working.”

Mr. Livotte invited her to take a test drive. “As far as the safety record, no news is good news,” Mr. Livotte said. “You don’t find any reports of deaths because there haven’t been any. You don’t find any reports of serious injury because there hasn’t been any. There’s no way to skin your knee, no way to skin your elbow.”

Mr. Leone said if granted a license to operate the Scoot Coupes, he would take 10 mopeds out of his rental fleet. Mr. Livote said he believes the limited-use vehicles are safer than mopeds, because of their three-wheel stability, safety belts, protective roll bars, ABS braking, and an annual state safety inspection.

“You’ve made a good argument against mopeds,” selectman Gail Barmakian said but, she added, “Let’s say they go off on a road (where they are restricted), which is inevitably going to happen. We don’t have the manpower to enforce it.”

In other action, the board held a public hearing on a fishing pier proposed for the North Bluff, about 200 feet west of the Steamship Authority dock. Few opposed the pier, but some opposed the location. “We like the idea of a fishing pier,” Belleruth Naparstek, president of the North Bluff neighborhood association, said. “What we’re concerned about is placing it in the heart of this residential neighborhood. Even quiet fishermen closing their doors at 3 am will wake people up.”

The pier, to be built with state funds from the state office of fishing and boating access, would be restricted by law to fishing only.

“It’s going to draw a lot more revelers and partiers on that dock than we realize. There’s no way to control that,” resident Harvey Russell said.

A large contingent of Island fishermen spoke in favor of the pier and its proposed location. Alvin Hardaway said he thought fears of noise were unfounded.

“I’ve been taking kids fishing down there for years. When I’m fishing, I don’t even talk. I’m not telling anyone the fish are here. I think fishermen are getting a bad rap.”

Dave Nash, who led an advisory group on the pier, said the location was carefully considered.

“I know the neighborhood is very concerned,” Mr. Nash said. “The advisory group did its best to place it where there are fish. Fishermen across the Island are united in favor of this location.”