The vineyard gazette – martha’s vineyard news oak bluffs to vote on home rule petition to ban mopeds

A home rule petition allows towns to expand their governing authority. Oak Bluffs does not currently have the power to unilaterally prohibit mopeds due to a Massachusetts state statute, so a home rule petition is required to make an exception to state law, according to town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport.

If approved by a majority of voters, it would be one step closer to getting rid of mopeds altogether in Oak Bluffs, where three out of four moped rental companies on the Island are located. At a last year’s town meeting, voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of a non-binding petition to ban mopeds in town, and about 85 per cent of voters supported a non-binding moped ban at the ballot box.

Mr. Rappaport said that if voters accept the petition, it will be immediately sent to the Massachusetts state legislature for consideration. If the legislature passes the amendment and Gov. Charlie Baker signs it into law, then the town has the power to hold a vote on the moped ban at the following town meeting.

The fight over moped use on the Island has brewed for years, exacerbated by numerous accidents. The effort to ban mopeds was renewed in 2016 after a young woman was seriously injured in an accident in Oak Bluffs. The accident prompted a group of citizens to file a complaint against the town alleging that all three moped rentals in town failed to comply with the town bylaws.

Selectmen declined to renew the licenses, and the effort ended up in court, with a superior court judge ruling that the town could not decline to approve licenses for moped rental companies because Massachusetts law allows mopeds the right to use public roads.

An islandwide survey conducted by the Vineyard Gazette early last year found that out of 2,400 respondents, 90 per cent would support eliminating moped rentals if it were legally possible to do so. Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven are the only Island towns where it is possible to rent a moped or obtain a moped license. Oak Bluffs currently allows only up to 308 mopeds and five licenses.

Nicole Friedler, a member of the Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee, said she was glad to see that selectmen were moving forward with the petition. The group has been on the forefront of calling for a moped ban and Ms. Friedler said that she’s encouraged that the group’s efforts were possibly influential.

Mr. Rich said he has been battling moped use on the Island for decades as a first responder and then police chief. He said he has no qualms with licensed drivers, but would like to see rental companies require a motorcycle license to rent a moped.

He said that though some people paint opponents of moped use as those who just want the road to themselves, he doesn’t judge on the morals of it. He said the surveys speak for themselves and that he’s hopeful that a ban will be passed by next year.

Jason Leone, who is registered with the town as owner or co-owner of the three dealerships in Oak Bluffs and one dealership on Vineyard Haven, has defended his right to operate his businesses in the past. His wife, Erin Leone, told the Gazette this week that he no longer owns the Oak Bluffs businesses, which have been taken over by an off-Island business partner.

Mr. Leone told the Gazette last summer when he owned all four Island moped dealerships that he had willingly complied with the town’s strict moped regulations and was frustrated by the divisiveness of the issue. “People spent time trying to put someone out of business, instead of just talking with them,” he said at the time. “I go further than what I’m asked to do.”

Former selectman and Oak Bluffs businessman Todd Rebello, who has defended Mr. Leone’s right to operate his businesses, told the Gazette that the past year has been successful from a safety standpoint, and one of the safest years on record in terms of the number of moped accidents.

Mr. Rebello added that he believes the town is taking the ethical course of action in calling for a town vote over the home rule petition, but worries that if a ban is passed in Oak Bluffs it could have a domino effect on other towns with high moped use.

“My advice to business owners is that if this were my business I would contact the manufacturers and anyone else in the business in the state to fight for this,” said Mr. Rebello. “If one town is granted one form of exemption, others will soon follow.”