West Tisbury selectmen favor eliminating moped rentals

There will be a vote on eliminating moped rentals on Martha’s Vineyard in the April 13 town election.

West Tisbury voters will be asked to weigh in on mopeds this April.

Updated 9:55 pm, Sunday

The nascent movement to eliminate moped rentals on the Island gained a little traction in West Tisbury Wednesday night, when selectmen unanimously approved a non-binding ballot measure for this April’s town election, asking voters if they favor restricting Island-wide moped rentals. Specifically, West Tisbury voters will be asked,  “Are you in favor of eliminating rental mopeds from Martha’s Vineyard, yes or no?”

“We’ve got to end this,” interim Chilmark Police Chief Tim Rich and member of the Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee, told the board. “I have been working on the moped problem since the late 1980s, and it has been reinvigorated after that terrible accident this past summer where a young woman lost her leg. Some of the older committee members and myself decided that we’ve got to end this.”

Tisbury and Oak Bluffs are the only towns on the Vineyard that issue business licenses for moped rentals.

Although the vote in West Tisbury would only be a symbolic one, Mr. Rich said the town’s support was essential to building Island-wide consensus.

“What we are looking for is to have a non-binding ballot question placed on all the town meetings,” he said. “The other side of what we are dealing with is the public sentiment.  [Let’s have] a vote on this Island to see what the people think.”

Mr. Rich said that previous Oak Bluffs boards of selectmen had allowed license transfers and change of ownership of moped rental businesses, which violated a town by-law adopted in 2004. The by-law was intended to phase out moped rentals completely over time.

“We’ve come to the conclusion, and I came to this conclusion a long time ago, that [rental mopeds] just aren’t workable for Martha’s Vineyard,” he said.  “What we’re looking for is to have the current bylaws in the towns — specifically Oak Bluffs — be enforced, and if they were, the problem would resolve itself.”

Mr. Rich got a close up view of the carnage created by moped rentals in the 30 years he served as Chilmark police chief and as an EMT. He redoubled his efforts to ban moped rentals in the wake of a fatal accident in 2014, when a moped driver lost control and drove into the path of an oncoming pickup truck operated by his son, Jonathan. He said that renting mopeds to inexperienced riders will invariably result in more tragedy.

“The people who come here [to visit] see that they’re allowed, they think they are a viable form of transportation. They have no understanding — the government allows them, so they must be somewhat safe with all the regulations we have — and then they get on them, and they find out it’s a disaster,” Mr. Rich said.  “It’s a failure of the government in my opinion.”

“I witnessed an accident that was horrendous, and it said to me, ‘[Mopeds] just can’t work,’” chairman of the selectmen Richard Knabel said.