Year-round and seasonal residents who responded in equal numbers to a Vineyard Gazette community survey about mopeds on Martha’s Vineyard share strong opposition to moped rentals on the Island, with many commenting that narrow roads and inexperienced drivers are a dangerous combination.
Ninety one per cent of year-round residents and 89 per cent of seasonal residents said they would support eliminating moped rentals on Martha’s Vineyard if it were legally possible to do so. And 58 per cent of year-round residents called the problem of moped rentals “extremely serious” compared to 49 per cent of seasonal residents.
In just 10 days, a total of 2,390 people — including 1,098 year-round residents — had responded to the Vineyard Gazette’s 13-question online survey, designed to stimulate debate around the issue of mopeds and moped rentals. The survey closed on Monday. Although the sample of the community is not statistically valid, the survey included a mechanism to prevent multiple responses from the same computer.
By comparison, just over 1,300 people participated in the Gazette’s community survey last August on ticks and tick-borne illness.
A long-simmering discussion of the hazards of mopeds on Martha’s Vineyard heated up again after a crash last summer left two young women seriously injured. Shortly after the accident, moped opponents renewed an effort to curb moped rentals.
Members of the Mopeds are Dangerous Action Committee recently filed a formal complaint with the town of Oak Bluffs alleging lack of enforcement of moped bylaws and problems with licenses for moped rental companies. On another front, members of the action committee, moped rental owners, police and emergency responders have gathered for discussion sessions about how to amend town bylaws to improve moped safety. Their suggestions are expected to come before town meeting voters this spring.
A well-publicized campaign to ban mopeds on the Vineyard in the 1980s raised awareness of the issue, but ran into legal obstacles after a similar effort by the town of Provincetown to outlaw moped rentals was ruled inconsistent with state law.
In the recent survey, comments offered anonymously by respondents suggest that while public opinion is generally against any mopeds on Island roads, rental mopeds pose particular risks.
“It is just too crowded and people who come to Martha’s Vineyard for one day and rent mopeds don’t necessarily know how to drive them — let alone know their way around the Vineyard. They clog up traffic, zigzagging all over the roads,” said one respondent, in a comment typical of many.
While nine out of 10 people said they oppose rental mopeds, fewer — about seven out of 10 — would support eliminating mopeds entirely on the Island. Several commented that bicycles pose an equal danger on narrow roads, and that singling out mopeds was unfair.
“People should be allowed to own and operate a moped if it is all they can afford for transportation,” said one commenter. “Someone who drives a moped on a daily basis understands the rules of the road better and is more comfortable and aware of their surroundings than someone who is a first-timer or just here on vacation.”
Fewer than two per cent of respondents said they or a family owned a moped and 11 per cent said they had ever rented one on Martha’s Vineyard.
And while only four per cent of respondents said they or a family member had ever been involved in a collision involving a moped on Martha’s Vineyard, more than half of respondents (51 per cent) said they or a family member had witnessed a moped accident. The percentage was even higher — 66 per cent — for people who identified as commercial drivers or who drive frequently for work.
Asked to provide comments on that question, respondents described witnessing a wide range of incidents ranging from near-misses to fatal crashes, some occurring years and even decades ago. Several said they are haunted years later by images of accident victims. The words “horrific” and “horrifying” came up repeatedly.
“I’ve seen the aftermath of many accidents, people waiting by the side of the road to be picked up after crashing. My wife and daughter arrived just after an accident in Chilmark with serious injuries,” wrote one commenter.
“I have seen three crashes in front of the Lookout (restaurant in Oak Bluffs), where riders make the right turn and lose their balance. Two of the crashes involved parked vehicles” said another.
“When I was a child, I witnessed a fatal crash at the corner by the hospital. I still remember the screaming/crying and I know my mother still occasionally has nightmares about what she saw,” said a third.
Asked whether they would support additional regulation of rental moped use if outright elimination of rental mopeds weren’t legally possible, 95 per cent of respondents said yes.
Suggestions included additional licensure and training, requiring helmets, long pants and shoes, limiting rentals to one rider per moped, requiring mopeds to go single file and restricting them to certain roads.
Several commenters expressed skepticism about this approach.
“Let’s be honest, those regulations would never get enforced,” said one. “The police have too much to do besides having to worry about who is wearing flip flops. We have an excellent public transportation that is ever improving and there are rental companies that are retooling as it were to offer smaller cars for rent.”
Respondents represent a broad cross section of the community. In terms of age, 13 per cent are under 40, 37 per cent are between 41 and 60 and 49 per cent are 61 or older. Thirty per cent live in Edgartown, 24 per cent in Oak Bluffs, 15 per cent in West Tisbury, 14 per cent in Tisbury, 13 per cent in Chilmark and four per cent in Aquinnah. Twenty-two per cent identified as a commercial driver or someone who drives frequently for work.
The Vineyard Gazette Community Survey Project conducts surveys from time to time on issues of interest to Island residents, both year-round and seasonal. If you would like to be notified about future surveys, please sign up at vineyardgazette.com/survey.