Voters in Oak Bluffs could put a significant dent in the number of mopeds rented in their town if they back a tough proposal put forth by selectmen. At a special town meeting on June 18, residents will be asked to approve a bylaw that would cut down the number of moped dealer licenses issued each year from seven to five.
According to selectmen's chairman Todd Rebello, the two dealerships that would fall by the wayside are Harbor Mopeds and Porthole Mopeds, both operated by Colin Young on Circuit avenue extension. With those two outlets pushed out of business, the fleet of rentals would be reduced by 151, or 32 per cent of the total rented in town.
Current bylaws allow selectmen to issue eight permits a year, but the town has never licensed more than seven dealerships in the last 20 years, according to town records.
Oak Bluffs is home to all but one of the moped rental shops on the Vineyard. Last summer, after two separate moped accidents claimed the life of one woman and left another man with permanent brain damage, selectmen there came under pressure to clamp down on the moped businesses that thrived in their downtown.
For months, selectmen amped up the rhetoric against dealers, promising hard-line enforcement of bylaws and demanding better training of would-be renters. But behind all the talking, there was little action - until now.
The proposed bylaw would take 151 mopeds off the rental market. And while that move doesn't guarantee fewer mopeds on Island roads, and will probably benefit other dealers in town by thinning out the competition, at least one outspoken moped opponent sees it as a step in the right direction.
"I recommended a long-term diminution of moped licenses over three years," said Sam Feldman, founder of Mopeds are Dangerous, an organization that has lobbied against mopeds for years. "This is a good-spirited attempt to do that."
Mr. Feldman's pragmatism is rooted in the fact that previous attempts to rid the Island of mopeds by seeking passage of new laws in the state legislature have made no headway.
Even state representative Eric T. Turkington has encouraged Vineyard towns to take on moped dealers on the local level rather than waiting for the state to solve the problem.
Mr. Feldman has also advocated the tactic of guiding moped dealers into other business enterprises. Selectmen also moved in that direction this past spring, agreeing to a deal that involved trading a moped license for a liquor and sewer permit requested by Mark Wallace, the town's dominant moped dealer.
The negotiations with Mr. Wallace form the complicated and sometimes unclear backdrop for the proposal that voters will see in just over two weeks.
Last February, Mr. Wallace approached selectmen, asking for an alcohol license for a restaurant he wanted to open. In exchange, he offered to arrange for Mr. Young to forfeit his license for Porthole Mopeds; Mr. Wallace is the landlord for the space on Circuit avenue extension rented by Mr. Young.
Selectmen and wastewater committee members both agreed to the deal.
Now, says Mr. Rebello, it is Mr. Wallace who is putting not only Porthole Mopeds but also Harbor Mopeds on the chopping block. Mr. Rebello told the Gazette last week that Mr. Wallace has the power to dispose of both licenses.
Until 1999, Mr. Wallace was the license holder for both moped dealerships. He transferred the licenses to Mr. Young at some time in the last three years.
Mr. Wallace did not return phone calls from the Gazette and has previously refused to comment on his moped businesses. Mr. Young also could not be reached for comment.
But over the last two months, selectman Roger Wey has raised questions about whether the licenses held by Mr. Wallace and Mr. Young are even valid in the first place.
None of the three businesses were licensed last year. Despite the feisty talk from selectmen, they balked at enforcing their own bylaw which appears to give them the right to close down moped shops that fail to obtain licensing.
The town bylaw clearly states that "licenses not used during one year's time shall be null and void," but some selectmen argued that they were unsure about their legal authority to squash a business for a license violation.
Instead, selectmen have opted to sidestep the murky legal questions and put the licensing issue to voters, asking them simply to pare down the number of permits selectmen can issue annually.
The town meeting proposal also avoids another sticky issue - Mr. Wallace's permit to run Ride On Mopeds, his dealership on Lake avenue which has been licensed for 120 mopeds, more than any other dealer in town.
According to Alice Butler, the administrative assistant to selectmen, Mr. Wallace's license was never renewed last year and isn't current this year, either.
But under the new proposed bylaw, selectmen are convinced they will have the teeth to go after moped dealers who scoff at the licensing bylaws.
New language in the bylaw states that "any person, business or corporation . . . in the business of renting, leasing or keeping for rent or lease any motor scooters or moped without first obtaining a new license shall be deemed to have forfeited its license."
If voters pass the bylaw, it will be up to selectmen to stick to their promise of enforcement.