Whatever happened to the moped ban legislation?

Fernandes said it wasn’t renewed by O.B.; activists put blame on legislators.

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Mopeds ready to rented at King's in Oak Bluffs. -George Brennan

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.

33 COMMENTS

  1. If you want people to stop dying, ban cars for those who do not require them. Most people use cars with only themself in them, for a max of 1-2 hours a day, and the rest of the time those cars are parked. Cars kill people, destroy the environment, are a huge source of global warming, and require constant investment in expensive infrastructure. Cars are the great sin of the American way of life. Ideally, we would mostly all be riding mopeds around instead of cars, especially as the island’s summer population swells.

    • This is the worst whataboutism I have ever seen. I hope you are just trolling. Mopeds driven by inexperienced unlicensed people *are* the problem, you can’t just make cars disappear.

      • I’m not trolling. I realize Americans are addicted to cars, oil, and the tremendous waste that they generate. Similarly, I realize we will never, ever give them up, nor the convenience and status that they represent. Nevertheless, I believe it is quite true that most people on MV don’t need cars (at least not every day), that the Island’s road infrastructure has a finite capacity limit, and that automobile use is one of our main actual contributions as consumers toward global warming. To relate back to the topic at hand, it is interesting how everybody blames the perennial villain, mopeds, even though I’m sure it is always cars that actually cause loss of life. This is what we in the business call a “sacred cow”.

      • You can make cars disappear.
        Mackinac Island, Michigan
        On season they have 15,000 visitors a day.
        It is just one of twenty plus places in the US that does not allow cars.
        You need to get out more.

        • First, it may amaze you to hear that many people regularly manage to do grocery shopping without any vehicle at all. Second, children can ride bikes as easily as adults. Third, people ride skidoos in Alaska and Canada in even the deepest of winters. And yeah, it’s less comfortable/convenient than piling everybody into a gas guzzling steel cage that runs on fermented dinosaurs and is extracted at great social, military, and environmental cost.

          • Plenty cannot ride mopeds or bikes, including some parents, people with certain disabilities, people with various other medical conditions, and many elderly folks. This list accounts for a greater percentage of the population than is assumed. Only some kids can ride bikes. Some cannot.

          • Katie, that’s fine. Those people probably should have cars or the equivalent in public transportation or rideshares. My contention is merely that *most* people don’t really need cars, only find it very convenient and take it for granted. I promise the switch will be less of a hassle than global warming will be a generation from now.

          • I agree that we need to be more proactive about how our habits impact our environment. I was just mulling over some reasons that it would be difficult to eliminate cars. When it comes to preventing moped-related accidents, I think the most immediate solution is, as others said, to require a special license and more restrictions. Banning them outright has proven to be a huge challenge, and yet this can’t be allowed to continue. There must be some middle-ground solutions, at least for now.

            My heart goes out to everyone affected by this tragedy. 😔

  2. The moped ordinances also state that there cannot be. Change in ownership, or the license will not be renewed.

    Seems to me, in our research that if fact the ownership has changed…..so how are they still in compliance?

  3. Fear not. Our legislators have their priorities after all. Cyr and Fernandes are making headway in passing a bill that would establish a tax on Vineyard homeowners in order to fund “additional and aggressive development of affordable housing to meet the demand” of everyone who desires to live here. More people living here is promised to be the solution to the Island’s most compelling problems.

    • Affordable housing is needed, desperately. But, there should be a 10 year island residency requirement to apply for any units that may be available. That would solve your fear of an influx.

    • The Island needs no affordable housing.
      If you can’t afford market rate housing you should not be here.
      If you really want to work here you can commute, it is fast, convenient and cheap.

      • None of this is true. It is more than an hour each way. This is just not reasonable for most of the service industry jobs on the Vineyard. Also, there is a lot of blue-collar work that has to be able to respond to emergencies 24/7 within an hour. Can’t do that from the Cape. Rentals start at $2500/month and houses start at $750,000. Nobody making less than $120,000 a year has a chance.

  4. I seem to recall that a rented moped is not supposed to leave the town in which it was rented. I talked to our then police chief about this when I was a West Tisbury Selectman. He felt enforcement of that would be impossible for the up-Island towns, although he was sympathetic to prohibiting moped rentals. Perhaps if all the chiefs put their heads together they might be able to figure out a way to enforce this rule.

    Getting something through the legislature requires diligence, determination, and persistance. The number of bills and home rule petitions filed in any given legislative session far exceeds what they can/do produce. I’m not defending how things are done in the State House, but it takes a lot of work and attention to get something through their process.

  5. Dear all of you complaining about lack of action at the state house: Please let us know what you did to push the legislation. Did you submit testimony or show up at hearings? Did you contact members of the relevant committees? Did you mobilize Vineyarders to do likewise? Our state legislature most definitely has its problems — it’s one of the least transparent in the nation — but when it comes to “walking the walk,” supporters of a bill have got to do it too, and keep doing it. Did you all maybe just doze off till someone else got killed, and now you feel a little guilty about it?

  6. Mopeds are a form of transportation. Where do we draw the line? Horses, bikes, motorcycles, cars? Bikes account for most of the emergency room visits of any transportation source on the island. Should we take them away from all the kids and the spandex crew? Mopeds are truly dangerous. Diving into the waves is really dangerous as well. Should we outlaw that? Cigarettes, ice cream, fried food, booze…..the list is endless.

    • Don’t be silly, John. We can outlaw some dangerous things without outlawing them all. We can just look at the numbers and see what will do the most good with the least harm. Taxing the heck out of cigarettes and removing them from most shared public spaces has vastly reduced the number of smokers in this country, with associated reductions in lung and heart disease. You can’t just throw up your hands and say, “might as well ban ice cream” because you don’t like the idea of using government to protect people. As for bikes and car accidents, I’m sure that their interactions with cars are a contributing factor to their high number accidents.

  7. I was a part of that earlier effort to move toward a ban of mopeds on MV.
    There were so many persons who tirelessly and courageously fought behind the scenes, supplementing the incred efforts of Nicole Brisson.
    The response from responsible authorities was sad and really set the stage for a repeat of this death.
    I tried gathering photographic evidence of the unlawful mechanical condition of these mopeds and the non-compliance with Tisbury licensing agreements.
    The irresponsible ownership of this criminal organization fought back with No Trespass Orders on all their commercial properties, including their personal residence, where I had no idea of it’s location.
    One particular Tisbury police officer, the same one at the center of all recent lawsuits against the town, gleefully enforced these against me.
    So much for freedom of the press and transparency.
    My photos were no different than the ones taken by MV Times for this story.
    The operators of this criminal organization, trolled the MADAC page to plan their next move.
    I was not sympathetic to the sudden passing of the head of their organization a few years ago, hopeful that positive change may occur.
    They have displayed nothing but contempt for the lives of those who rent those death traps, so I didn’t feel I owed them much of anything at that moment.
    And it seems a little self-serving of Packish to try to explain his own negligence in not renewing the Bill before the Legislature.
    That is what leaders do, they LEAD.
    Packish cowardly ran for the tall grass on this one.
    It must be crowded in there, Packish, Cyr and Fernandez all crowded in?
    Tim Rich has been an unrelenting passionate voice of reason on this matter, and deserves all our support.
    The Tisbury Selectmen, more concerned with Elio’s car parking and the Tisbury Inn’s waste water violation’s, are probably reserving a large place in that tall grass as well.
    And finally, the MV Times, obviously having to shift from the full time job of shining daylight on the unlawful actions of the Tisbury Police, are to be given credit for so thoroughly covering this important story.

  8. Requiring a motorcycle license to rent a moped makes sense. Doing so would document the operator’s level of experience, reduce paperwork for the moped dealer, and would put a dent in the profit motive of that dealer. Those who choose to use a moped as private operators would not be effected.

    Rez Williams

    • As a motorcycle designee on my drivers license, I heartily agree with your sane comment, Rez. It’s not easy to pass the riding and written tests and is supposed to encourage novice riders to show the needed skills.

      • An aside: I can’t rent a motorcycle in Hawaii without a valid license designating that I have qualified to do so.

        • Same in Massachusetts.
          Same most everywhere, except really Red States.
          They don’t like regulations.
          Particularly those that limit commerce.

      • I still have a MA motorcycle license.
        I haven’t been on two wheels in well over 20 years.
        I have a horrible sense of balance.
        Am I good to go?

        How many people with motorcycle licenses have crashed mopeds on the Island (I have).
        Motorcycle riders are not renown for their judgement skills, they tend to be risk takers.

  9. I should have clarified that a separate moped license should be required. Motorcycles are designed to travel at speed in the travel lane. Mopeds generally travel below speed near the fog line with smaller wheels where there is apt to be sand and pot holes.

    • Gas motorcycles, electric motorcycles, gas mopeds, electric mopeds, gas bicycles, and electric bicycles should all have their own separate licenses.
      The all handle differently.

  10. Rez is right about requiring renters of mopeds to have a motorcycle license and I would suggest that private owners should have a license as well. A moped is after all just an underpowered motorcycle, which here on the island makes them even more risky as they have a hard time keeping up with traffic and cause congestion. There used to be more motorcycle rentals here until the early 70’s when the state wisely mandated that anyone renting a motorcycle was required to have a motorcycle license. That pretty much put an end to most motorcycle rental outfits and ushered in the era of moped rental businesses. It’s a crime for these tourists who come out here for the day and with only a few minutes of instruction be allowed to head off into traffic on our narrow winding roads on a moped with no experience whatsoever on how to ride one. It makes me cringe when I see them riding two up wearing shorts and flipflops wobbling along without a clue as to what will happen if they take a spill and have their bare skin shredded or worse on the asphalt. With the recent arrival of E bikes we now have electric motorized bicycle rentals which can travel at nearly the same speed as mopeds. While there are some responsible riders there are other clueless ones going in the wrong direction down one way streets, riding on sidewalks and cutting in and out of traffic with impunity. All of these problems could be alleviated if the riders of any motorized two wheel vehicles were licensed with proper training and the same written and road test as a motorcycle rider.

  11. It’s going to impossible to close the moped rentals businesses, but the towns can restrict where the moped can go. These accidents are mostly on the busiest roads, if mopeds are not allowed on these roads then that might lower the moped accidents. There has been too many accidents in front of my house (Tuckernuck ave OB), but there are not vehicles speeding down the street and it’s a one-way so the accidents aren’t too bad. Streets like Barnes, New York Ave, etc, should not allow mopeds or even bikes for the safety of everyone. Just my opinion

  12. There needs to be an end to this belief the mopeds present here on MV are a benign mode of transport, no more dangerous than any other type.
    They are cheaply produced pieces of junk, utter death traps. Relative to road licensed motorcycles, which pass at least some minimum federal safety standards, mopeds as a result of their classification escape much of these requirements.
    It is assumed because they are limited to a much lower operating speed, the operators will never have need for higher standards.
    Putting the two vehicles together in the same discussion, mopeds and motorcycles, is a little like lumping salt and sugar. Both are white and granular. But the similarity ends there.
    Mopeds are the most cheaply designed road going vehicles out there. Ever wonder why the rental company has a growing pile of wrecked mopeds out back of their shop and needs to upgrade their fleet so often?
    Mopeds are dangerous.
    https://www.nordstrandlaw.com/blog/motorcycle-accident/are-mopeds-just-as-dangerous-as-motorcycles/
    https://www.thecasehandler.com/2018/07/27/are-mopeds-as-dangerous-as-motorcycles/

  13. My heart goes out to the families of this crash and also to the folks who were in the Lexus, without fault in this tragedy.
    I’ve lived here for 11 years. I ride a bike year round. I’ve also been a licensed motorcyclist for over 50 years. I suggest the following to improve safety for operators of 2 wheeled vehicles, powered or otherwise:
    – No two up riding on mopeds (or e-bikes)
    – Helmets required on mopeds and businesses renting mopeds must assure their proper fit. (The observation in the article makes me wonder if the riders were wearing helmets, or if they were, were they properly strapped on?)
    – Follow the rules of the road
    – Rental e-bikes should be limited in power; should be limited to a maximum e-assist speed of 15 mph; and throttles should be prohibited – only pedal-assist models should be rented. This accords with regulations as I understand them in most European countries. E-bikes represent a new hazard for bike riders on the bike paths – now I have to dodge people who haven’t been on a bike in decades coming towards me at 25-30 mph on what is essentially an electric scooter. E-bikes that don’t require pedaling should be banned on our bike paths.

    In addition, the Island needs better enforcement of dangerous motor vehicle driving in relation to bikes and mopeds. MA law requires motor vehicle operators to pass bikes safely – most states require a designated passing distance, usually three feet. On a typical 40 mile ride I will be passed by dozens of vehicles at well under this safe spacing, and frequently on curves (State Road up-island, every single time I ride.) These drivers not only endanger me, but risk head-on crashes themselves with vehicles coming the opposite direction, just out of sight when they begin their pass. I wonder if a driver has ever been cited on this island for unsafe passing of a bike or moped. I have proposed in the past that every Island police officer ride a bicycle once/year from Vineyard Haven to the Aquinnah traffic circle at the Cliffs – that would open their eyes to the dangerous driving occurring daily here.

    An integrated approach to traffic safety for all concerned requires commitment of all. More people on two wheeled vehicles means fewer cars and less pollution- both benefits for all. Martha’s Vineyard has some striking similarities to other places – the Netherlands, Denmark – in terms of intimacy of settlement, moderate climate, relatively flat terrain, that are exemplars of multi-modal transport and have very high percentage of trips made by bike instead of by car. We could accomplish that here by zooming out from mopeds to thinking more globally about how we move ourselves around this small island.

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