Moped legislation motors into State House

Committee hears testimony from both sides of the issue.

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A joint legislative committee heard testimony on both sides of a proposed moped rental ban in Oak Bluffs. -George Brennan

Proponents of a home-rule petition to ban the rental of mopeds in Oak Bluffs testified that a ban would save lives on the Island, while representatives of the moped industry said it would end their livelihoods.

The Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government heard testimony on H4322 on Tuesday afternoon during a Zoom session.

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, who is sponsoring the bill on behalf of Oak Bluffs, recounted the story of a 20-year-old West Brookfield woman in Chilmark last August. “She wasn’t the first to be fatally injured in a moped accident, and she definitely will not be the last if we continue to allow moped rentals on Martha’s Vineyard,” Fernandes said.

It was that crash and fatality that resurrected the pleas on the Island for a ban, and for the legislature to act on the Island’s behalf.

Fernandes testified that over the past four decades, nine people have died in moped crashes, and dozens of others have been left with serious injuries. Fernandes mentioned this is a law that’s been supported by voters on the Island, but it hasn’t been acted on. “The wait for this has been far too long already, and it’s unacceptable that we haven’t acted on this,” Fernandes said.

During his remarks, Fernandes said mopeds attract inexperienced riders. “They’re especially dangerous when driven on the long, sandy, winding roads of the Island, where speed limits can be high and visibility can be low,” he said.

Former Chilmark Police Chief Timothy Rich, who served for 30 years and is a member of the moped action committee on the Island, called on the committee to act favorably on the ban. Rich mentioned a crash that involved his son in 2014, where a moped hit a vehicle his son was driving, and was killed. 

Rich also testified that to rent a moped, an individual needs only a learner’s permit. “Virtually all the moped operators are day tourists unfamiliar with our Island, the rental mopeds or scooters, and the skills necessary to safely operate one,” Rich said.

In closing, Rich asked the legislature to act favorably on the legislation, saying he has personally responded to many moped accidents. “There’s just simply no way to make moped rentals a safe and viable form of transportation on the Vineyard for the visiting moped rental drivers or their passengers,” Rich said.

When he finished, Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, thanked him for his public service and testimony. “There’s no substitute for what you’ve seen and your ability to bring it to the committee,” Tucker said.

Penny Wong, sitting with her husband Aguimar Carlos in the Zoom video, part-owner of Ride On Mopeds, testified against the legislation. “I ask you to reject this bill, as this will destroy my husband’s business and his livelihood,” she said.

Wong said mistruths are spread on social media about mopeds, and rental owners are “villainized as a greedy group of rich people who could care less about safety.” She pointed out that on many days her husband and her daughter, who also works at the shop, come home talking about individuals whom they didn’t rent mopeds to for safety reasons.

Some on the Vineyard support moped businesses, but fear speaking out publicly, Wong told the committee. “Are you willing to take away a 61-year-old man’s livelihood because of emotions?” she said in closing.

Michael Tierney, who manages three rental shops in Oak Bluffs, also testified against the bill. He said the number of shops has been cut in half, and the number of available rentals has been drastically reduced, from 700 to 178 licensed mopeds.

Tierney said all moped operators are run through training, including a test track. He said the injuries are overstated, and there were fewer than 20 incidents per year over the past five years. “It only makes up about one-third of 1 percent of our total rentals that actually get in accidents,” Tierney said. 

The ban wouldn’t eliminate mopeds on the Island, Tierney said. “It would just put some hardworking individuals out of work,” he said.

John Leone, who also described himself as a rental shop owner, said he believes mopeds are seen as more of a nuisance on the Island than a safety problem. “Most of the accidents are very minor,” Leone said. He suggested more mopeds and fewer cars and trucks would make the Island safer.

Tucker and state Sen. John Cronin, co-chairs of the committee, listened to testimony, but offered little insight into how they might vote.

Also up for a hearing on Tuesday was the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank land swap with Oak Bluffs on the so-called doughnut hole. The doughnut hole, nicknamed because it lacks access from public roads, is a 24-acre parcel of land in the Southern Woodlands area of Oak Bluffs, landlocked by a large swath of conservation land owned by the Land Bank. The deal began in 2004, when the town and the Land Bank struck a deal to give the doughnut hole to the Land Bank. In exchange, the town would gain a newly-carved-out 24 acres abutting an existing eight-acre town parcel with frontage on Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, to be used for affordable housing.

No one signed up to testify for that bill. Fernandes explained in a phone conversation that he submitted a letter of testimony on that bill.

It’s unclear when the joint committee will act on the two bills. Fernandes told The Times that the committee can either report on them favorably and send them for a vote of the full legislature, or they could send them for further study, which would essentially kill the bills.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t believe anyone should be riding mopeds on most of the Island roads I drive a large truck as a profession and I have seen so many crazy stunts by mopeds on the roads here. People wobbling all over the roads I have seen so many people driving cars reading maps looking at books and phones add mopeds and you are asking for trouble.
    Even the people who are what you would think are responsible end up getting seriously injured the roads are dangerous enough just with bicycles especially up island with no bike trails. We do not need anyone else getting killed or injured, thank you.

    • I have seen worse driving in cars. Car drivers ( and many truck drivers) make completely unsafe passes on any given road. In the fall and spring my commute to work upisland is white knuckled from vehicles making unsafe passes with cyclists, not mopeds.
      Slow the hell down. No one is in that much of a hurry. And if you really need to be taking photos or otherwise filming/ texting etc then perhaps you should pull over and stop.

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