Updated Aug. 31
A fatal crash Saturday involving a passenger on a moped is renewing calls to ban businesses from renting the vehicles on Martha’s Vineyard.
A home-rule petition to ban moped rentals was approved by Oak Bluffs town meeting in 2018, but never made it past a legislative committee, and died with the end of the legislative session, state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, told The Times in a text message.
Fernandes pointed out that voters at Oak Bluffs town meeting did not renew the home-rule petition, but a town leader and members of the group Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee (MADAC) that pushed for the legislation are pointing the blame back at Fernandes and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro.
“If I were to tell you how I truly feel, it would be unprintable,” former Chilmark Police Chief Timothy Rich said. “It’s money. It’s corruption. It’s a joke. Our state legislature is a joke. They let it expire.”
Cyr said the onus is on local communities to make sure home-rule petitions are refiled. “That’s not fair,” he said when told of the criticism that he and Fernandes did not do enough to promote the bill. He said the Islands, especially Nantucket, typically lead the state in home-rule petitions. They’re a good tool, and can lead to legislation, he said, but there are other competing interests. In the case of the moped ban, there was concern from the transportation committee about the precedent that would be set, and how a ban in one town — Oak Bluffs — would be enforced
Islandwide. “What I would advise is if we had a home-rule from all six of the Island towns, we could move it through the process,” Cyr said.
Rich is a member of the action committee, but also has a personal reason for his anger and frustration. In 2014, a moped driver was killed after losing control of a moped and crashing into a pickup driven by Rich’s son, Jonathan. He said Saturday’s fatal crash is causing flashbacks for his son.
“Cyr and Fernandes bear a lot of responsibility,” Rich said of the home-rule petition not gaining traction at the State House. “They talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.”
Oak Bluffs select board member Brian Packish also criticized Cyr and Fernandes for the legislation not moving forward. He said given how the legislation was received on Beacon Hill, town leaders didn’t see the point in renewing it.
“Without them it’s never going to move,” Packish said. “That’s where it dies. We’ve taken the action locally. We worked hard on it at the town level. At the end of the day, the dollar drives the conversation.”
Cyr said he represents 20 towns and Fernandes represents nine. “We’re not actively chasing towns for home-rule petitions,” he said. “Especially during COVID, our focus has been on how many people are unemployed, getting people on their feet, and advocating for vaccine resources. We don’t have the staff and bandwidth to hold the town’s hand.”
If the town wanted the home-rule petition to be filed, he and Fernandes would refile it. “We’re glad to assist, but I do want to be honest that we’ve got a lot on our plates, and our constituents want us to be focused on the core issues like the pandemic and housing,” Cyr said.
Rich has been in contact with other members of MADAC, which pushed for the home-rule petition, but also got bylaws approved in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury — the two towns that issue licenses for moped rentals — to get new safety regulations put in place.
Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake said the three companies that operate in that town are in compliance with those regulations. Blake pointed out that you need to have a motorcycle license to operate a motorcycle on the Island, but all you need is a permit to be able to rent a moped.
Nicole Brisson, another member of MADAC, said she’s not sure she has it in her to fight the fight again to seek a moped ban. “I did my very best. I fought the man. I went to Oak Bluffs. I went to Vineyard Haven. I got safety rules in place,” she said. “You can put the rules in place, but unless there is enforcement, how do you change things? There has to be a buy-in by everyone. Everyone is short-staffed; I’m sure there aren’t enough officers.”
Brisson helped rally support in 2017 and 2018 with a Facebook page and a petition. “Everybody wants to talk about how horrible it is. I’m tired of people talking,” she said. “Something has to be done.”
Rich said the idea has been floated of trying to buy out the companies involved, but he’s not sold on that idea. Instead, he’d like to see Cyr and Fernandes get behind what the Island wants.
“We need a lobbyist,” Rich said. “We have to grease the wheels because common sense and logic mean nothing to these people.”
A message left for a manager at Island Moped Group, which owns three rental locations in Oak Bluffs — Ride-on, King’s, and Island Hoppers — was not returned.
Updated with comments from Cyr. -Ed.