Mopeds will be available to rent again in Oak Bluffs this summer, perhaps as soon as this weekend, following a court order late last week clearing the way for three dealerships to receive licenses.

Town officials said this week they are considering further action, including a home rule petition that would allow the town more freedom to regulate mopeds — and potentially outlaw them entirely.

But this summer moped rental dealers will be open for business after selectmen voted unanimously during an emergency meeting Tuesday to grant licenses to Ride-On Mopeds, Island Hoppers, and King of Mopeds of MV. The vote capped months of debate about moped safety and a dispute over licensing that eventually went to court. At the heart of the issue was a previously unenforced town bylaw requiring training tracks on site at moped rental companies. The dealers said they could not provide the test tracks, and selectmen refused to grant waivers.

Last Friday superior court Judge Cornelius J. Moriarty 2nd ordered the town to grant the waivers, finding that the test track requirement is at odds with state law and legally unenforceable.

Oak Bluffs moped dealers Jason Leone (far left) and Aguimar Carlos (at right). — Mark Lovewell

Moped dealers Jason Leone and Aguimar Carlos said after the meeting Tuesday that they planned to open this weekend. Mr. Leone did not respond to repeated telephone calls from the Gazette this week seeking further comment.

As of late Thursday morning, the licenses had not been issued yet. Town administrator Robert Whritenour said he believed inspections had been completed, but Mr. Leone still needed to pay fees and provide proof that a $25,000 bond had been posted, as required by Judge Moriarty. “We are prepared to issue the licenses as per the order of the court and the vote of the board,” Mr. Whritenour said.

He said it was his understanding that Mr. Leone was aiming to be ready to open this weekend. Superior court clerk Joseph E. Sollitto said Thursday morning that the $25,000 cash bond had not yet been posted.

On Tuesday, selectmen met for about half an hour in executive session before returning to vote in open session to waive the test track requirement and grant the licenses. Gregory Coogan, Michael Santoro, and Gail Barmakian made no further comment after the unanimous votes. Selectmen Kathy Burton and Brian Packish were unable to attend the meeting for personal reasons.

After the meeting, Mr. Santoro told the Gazette that the board was considering all its options, including an appeal.

The meeting came four days after Judge Moriarty granted an emergency injunction to Mr. Leone and Mr. Carlos. The test track requirement has long been on the books but never enforced by selectmen. The lack of enforcement came to light earlier this year in a formal complaint filed by a citizen group calling itself the Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee. An independent review of the town moped bylaw was conducted by town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport.

Mr. Rappaport said the town could not deny the moped dealers licenses, but he recommended that they begin enforcing the test track requirement out of concern for public safety. The dealers applied for waivers to the test track rule, and on May 9, selectmen denied the waivers. The decision effectively froze the annual license renewals for the three companies.

In the ruling issued last Friday, Judge Moriarty found that under state law anyone with a valid driver’s license can own or rent a moped. Therefore, the judge found the town bylaw “has effectively burdened the right to operate a moped by adding the requirement that those wishing to rent a moped in Oak Bluffs must presumably pass a safety test . . . at on site training tracks that do not now or ever have existed.”

The decision noted that the town had not enforced the test track requirement since the bylaw was adopted, and that denying the moped companies’ request would cause them to lose their businesses.

Court arguments centered on conflicts between the town bylaw and state law, and competing interests of public safety. Judge Moriarty said the court recognized that there have been serious accidents, but towns have alternative methods of dealing with those problems, including home rule petitions and stricter enforcement of traffic laws.

While the town is considering options, including a court appeal, Mr. Whritenour said Thursday that the town is now seriously considering the home rule petition option to expand the town’s governing authority over mopeds. Town counsel has drafted language for the selectmen to consider.

“That’s one thing that sidesteps all of this,” the town administrator said. “That will definitely be on the table . . . it’s uppermost in the board’s mind. They’ve reviewed it, discussed it, have copies of it, just are considering the hows and whens of it right now.”

A home rule petition would need voter approval before going to the state legislature. Mr. Whritenour said the proposal could come before a special town meeting this fall.

“The issue for the town is larger than simply a test track,” he said. “We’re concerned with the big picture, the town authority to regulate in order for the public safety, that’s our overriding concern.”

Meanwhile, he said for now, selectmen are complying with the court order. “Obviously the decision was disappointing for us. They have to honor the order of the court,” he said. “The most important thing is that we made very clear that the board of selectmen has every intention of pressing the requirements of our local bylaw, especially those with respect to public safety. That’s not going to change.”

Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake said Thursday that while the path is cleared for mopeds to be rented this summer, his department will focus on enforcement of existing bylaws. The moped companies offered an alternate training program in lieu of the training tracks that includes safety videos, a risk notification form provided to and signed by moped renters, demonstrations and instruction, and a host of other measures. At the annual town meeting, voters also approved changes to the moped rental bylaw that are currently under review by the state attorney general’s office.

Day-to-day enforcement of moped safety falls to the police department, Chief Blake said. He said his officers focus on education above enforcement, reminding riders about safety measures like wearing helmets and closed-toe shoes. The signed checklist of safety regulations will be an added tool, he said. “If they follow this, we’ll know that these people will be informed,” he said. “It’s not about getting out there and writing out citations, it’s about making sure people are operating them the best they can.”

He said police would step up enforcement once the mopeds are available to rent.

“We’ll go down there, watch exactly what they’re doing, and make sure they’re following the rules,” he said. “If the get in the habit of doing it correctly to start out the season then it will last all year.”

He added: “With the spotlight that’s been on the moped issues the last six or so months and changes in the bylaw, it’ll be taking up more time than it has in the past.”

Nicole Brisson, a leader in the Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee, said her group was disappointed that licenses had been granted, but counted some successes.

“We feel that in a way we’ve been successful, because we’ve brought the fact that these safety requirements have been in existence to the forefront, and have shown that they exist and they need to be enforced,” she said. “Bottom line is that selectmen and the public and the police have been made aware of what the reality is and it really now is up to the selectmen and the police departments to make sure that they enforce the law.”

Ms. Brisson noted the overwhelming support at town elections for a nonbinding referendum about whether moped rentals should be outlawed, and said the group’s focus has been on enforcement and public safety, not putting anyone out of business.

“Now everybody knows the requirements, the requirements have been tightened,” she said. “So we can only hope that we have a safer summer.”