Oak Bluffs selectmen don't renew moped rental licenses

Citing public safety concerns, selectmen unanimously decline to grant a test track waiver to three moped businesses

Selectmen in Oak Bluffs are saying they won't grant a waiver for a test track provision for moped rental businesses in town. - File photo

Updated Wednesday May 10

Mopeds are officially stalled in Oak Bluffs, at least until the next selectmen’s meeting.

Oak Bluffs selectmen unanimously declined to grant a test track waiver to the three moped rental businesses — Island Hoppers, King of Rentals, and Ride On Mopeds — at their regular meeting on Tuesday night.

Town bylaw states that a moped rental business must have a 25-foot by 50-foot test track on the premises, or get a waiver from selectmen by providing alternative safety training.

“We are willing to work with the board and willing to be flexible,” Boston-based attorney Kelly Malone, attorney for Jason Leone, said. Mr. Leone owns two of the moped rental businesses in town, and co-owns the third. “The program that we have outlined is very thorough. We took a lot of time over the past couple of weeks thinking about what we need to do to make a cohesive, strong [training] program. Still, we’re open to suggestions the board might have.”

Ms. Malone said that Mr. Leone and Todd Rebello, a former selectman who has acted as spokesman for Mr. Leone throughout the permitting process, had done an exhaustive search, and did not find a suitable site for a test track within walking distance of the businesses.

The alternative training plan Ms. Malone presented included rental contracts that state known risks, waivers that are explained by employees which drivers and passengers must sign, and an explanation of state and local moped regulations. Customers also have to view a safety video, which was provided by Tisbury police a number of years ago. Once the paperwork is completed, an employee will instruct drivers and passengers on how to operate the moped.

“That’s when the final release form is signed, that they understand the rules of the road and they understand how to use all the different features of the moped,” Ms. Malone said. “It’s at that point the operator will be given the keys and asked to demonstrate how to operate the moped so the employee can assess their ability to operate the moped safely.” If that customer is then deemed capable, he or she will be asked to drive around the block. “If there is any indication the person cannot operate the moped safely, keys will be taken and the money is refunded in full,” Ms. Malone said, adding there was a “litany” of other measures Mr. Leone was proposing that would demonstrate his commitment to safety, including enhanced training for new employees, installing surveillance cameras at each location so video records will be available to the town upon request, and T shirts for all employees that have the name of the business, its phone number, and “safety first” written on them. Weight limits on mopeds would also be enforced.

“I think we’ve thought about just about everything, if there’s other suggestions we’re certainly willing to listen,” she said.

Selectmen were not impressed.

The biggest sticking point was that busy town roads — Circuit Avenue Extension, Seaview Avenue Extension, Pasque Avenue and Oak Bluffs Avenue — would still be used as a test track for all three moped rental concerns in town.

“I’m not comfortable with a test track on town property,” chairman Kathy Burton said. “When I first became a selectman eight years ago, I didn’t know a waiver was in place. Now that I know, I cannot proceed in good conscience without a test track.” Ms. Burton also noted the proposal presented by Ms. Malone stipulated a 90-day grace period to implement the changes. “That could be next season,” she said.

Town counsel Ron Rappaport opened the meeting asking Ms. Malone for copies of the leases for the properties on which their businesses are located, to determine if the training track was feasible.

Ms. Malone said the leases were in storage in Florida.

“I’d like to see those leases again, because it appears from looking at various maps and aerial photographs that they have only leased a portion of the property, and I’d like to see specifically what portion they have leased,” Mr. Rappaport said. The board should pursue whether there is any other area on the property available to be a training track, he said.

“Regardless of leases, I’m not willing to grant a waiver. Test driving on our streets is unacceptable to our community,” selectman Brian Packish said. He also said that the board should consider reducing the number of rental mopeds, currently 218, not the number of business licenses.

Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake implored selectmen to abide by the bylaw amendment passed at town meeting last month, the result of meetings with stakeholders, public officials, and concerned citizens — which requires an instructor to ride with a prospective renter when using an alternative to the test track. “I want to make sure if you’re going to approve this, that it’s according to the bylaw,” he said, to a round of applause from the packed town hall meeting room.

There was a back-and-forth between selectmen and company representatives about the requirements singling out moped businesses.

“There’s no greater abuser in the downtown area than the moped businesses,” Mr. Packish said. “The entire track runs in our downtown area. You have to draw the line somewhere.”

Ms. Malone said reasonable alternatives were presented. “If these three waivers are being denied, then effectively you’re banning mopeds, which is contrary to state law,” Ms. Malone said.

“We’re addressing public safety. If you were here in the summer, you’d understand that,” Ms. Barmakian said.

Selectman Michael Santoro told Ms. Malone and Mr. Leone that they were welcome to come back with a new plan.

New faces in town hall

In other business, selectmen unanimously endorsed hirings recommended by town administrator Robert Whritenour.

Deborah Potter was appointed as acting town accountant. Ms. Potter has been working as assistant town accountant since former town accountant Arthur Gallagher died suddenly last June. Mr. Whritenour said that although Ms. Potter did not have the years of experience initially sought for the position, she has shown exceptional leadership and development, and is well into the certification process.

Ms. Potter was appointed acting town accountant for six months, and will undergo a review at that point.

Recently retired Barnstable building inspector Thomas Perry and recently retired Falmouth building inspector Eladio Gore were appointed on an interim basis to fill in for departing building inspector Mark Barbadoro, who is leaving on May 19 to take a position in Fitchburg.

“We feel we may even be able to ramp up the service level because of the vast experience between these two individuals,” Mr. Whritenour said, adding that he hopes a local candidate can fill the building inspector position and be mentored by Mr. Perry and Mr. Gore.

“Maybe there’s someone in the trades with a bad knee who would like to be warm in the winter, and would like to learn from experts,” selectman Greg Coogan said.