Oak Bluffs Selectmen to Check Moped Dealers' Record Books

By CHRIS BURRELL

In the years of controversy and political wrangling over the safety of mopeds on the Vineyard, dealers have kept close guard over one vital statistic: the actual number of mopeds they rent and set loose on Island roads.

But come mid-November, moped dealers in Oak Bluffs - home to all but one of the Vineyard's moped outlets - will have to open their books to selectmen and disclose exactly how many mopeds they rented each day during the season and how many ended up in accidents.

"The information is critical. We need to see what the trends are and get the real picture of what goes on in this town," selectman Roger Wey told the Gazette yesterday. "We need to know how many accidents have come from which dealers."

Last week, Mr. Wey called on his board to demand the figures from moped dealers on a weekly basis; after a debate, board members opted, by unanimous vote, for a year-end report.

The town's new set of bylaws, passed by voters in the spring of last year, requires that dealers "maintain a complete register of daily rentals, including renters (and) accidents . . . available to the Board of Selectmen at all times."

Up until now, no one in town - neither police nor selectmen - has bothered to ask dealers for a look at the mandated daily logs. Last week, at least one selectman was still hedging about pushing the issue at the height of moped season.

"To put the burden like that on any business wouldn't be fair," said selectman Todd Rebello at the board meeting last week. He amended Mr. Wey's motion, arguing that he could support requesting the moped rental log information at year's end.

Selectmen chairman Richard Combra also appeared uncomfortable with the action, saying that he would have preferred taking up the matter as an official agenda item at a later meeting.

But selectman Michael Dutton boiled down the whole discussion and pointed to language in the bylaw: "The regulations say they will keep a daily log, and all we're asking is that they give us a copy."

New moped bylaws came in the wake of the summer of 2001, when two separate accidents left one woman dead and another man with permanent brain damage. Both mopeds involved in the crashes were rented in Oak Bluffs.

In the aftermath, selectmen in Oak Bluffs re-wrote the moped bylaws and vowed to treat moped dealers harshly if they ran afoul of the new regulations.

Last week, selectmen stuck with Mr. Rebello's less burdensome version of the motion to inspect the daily logs. But they may still face a fight when it comes to prying the data from some of the town's five moped dealers.

"I'll never show ‘em my books. It's none of their business," Don Gregory, Sr., co-owner of Sun ‘n Fun on Lake avenue, told the Gazette Sunday.

Three other dealers also reacted sharply when informed that selectmen were aiming to lift the veil on their rental records.

"It's borderline harassment," said Fran Alarie, 3rd, owner of Two Wheel Traveler on Circuit avenue extension.

"I keep a record of everything but that's confidential. I have nothing to hide but it's not a fair thing to do. It's unconstitutional," said Cheryl King, owner of King's Rentals, also on Circuit avenue extension.

Anne DeBettencourt, owner of DeBettencourt's Bike Shop and Lazy Pedaler on the same street, said she would not tell selectmen the names of people who rented mopeds from her even though the bylaw requires that information.

Both Ms. King and Mr. Gregory promised a legal fight. "They would be seriously challenged if they try to do that," said Ms. King.

When asked if they would share their daily rental numbers with the Gazette, dealers side-stepped the question.

Mr. Alarie, who was reached on Nantucket by cell phone, said he had no idea how many mopeds he was renting on a daily or weekly basis. Ms. DeBettencourt said she rents only one or two a day.

At King's Rentals, Ms. King said rentals are down this summer. "I have 50 mopeds on my license, and I have not sold out a day yet," she said.

At the Island's largest moped rental operation - Ride-On Mopeds - new owner Aguimar Carlos said he would cooperate fully with any request from selectmen, but he had no intention yesterday of disclosing how many of the 120 mopeds on his license are actually rented on any given day.

By Nov. 15, Mr. Carlos and the others will have to produce the daily logs or run the risk of selectmen either suspending or even revoking their licenses.

Failure to comply "may impact future licensure," said town administrator Casey Sharpe. According to the bylaw, first-time violations may be met by a one week suspension or a $50 fine. Selectmen can revoke a license after a fourth violation.

"They've read the regs and agreed to provide this information," said Mr. Wey. "If they don't want to share it, they shouldn't have a license. We're trying to control these businesses for the public safety. Mopeds kill and maim people. We're not playing games here."

Mr. Wey has lobbied his board this summer to increase pressure on moped dealers, but he has found little support from fellow selectmen. Last month, he questioned the decision to transfer the license for Ride-On Mopeds from Mark Wallace to Mr. Carlos.

At a meeting on July 15, he handed out a list of 12 questions that he believed selectmen should ask not only Mr. Carlos but also any other moped dealer looking to transfer a license.

Mr. Wey wanted selectmen to scrutinize more closely the financial arrangement between Mr. Wallace and Mr. Carlos even after approving the transfer of the stockholder's name on the corporation that owns Ride-On Mopeds.

And Mr. Wey also wanted his board to determine whether Mr. Carlos - a native of Brazil still in the process of obtaining citizenship in the U.S. - possesses the English language skills to run a moped shop and ensure compliance with safety standards.

Other selectmen balked at the list from Mr. Wey. "I personally wouldn't accept this as an official document," said Mr. Combra on July 15. "You could pursue it as one member of the board."

Back in June, selectmen decided not to test the powers of their new bylaw when Mr. Wallace failed to turn in application papers and his fee on time.

Under the new moped bylaws, his tardiness might have been grounds for forfeiting his license - but only if selectmen had chosen to press the issue.

Regulations state that anyone "engaged in the business of renting, leasing or keeping for rent any motor scooters or mopeds without first obtaining a new license shall be deemed to have forfeited its license."

Records in the selectmen's office showed that Mr. Wallace filed his application papers four days late and didn't pay his $2,900 fee until almost a month past the deadline.

Mr. Rebello believed selectmen didn't have a strong case. Mr. Wey disagreed, saying in June, "If you are keeping mopeds, storing them on your property, and you don't have a license, it's invalid."