On April 10, Oak Bluffs voters will consider the next step toward banning moped rentals at their annual town meeting.

The question before voters is whether to petition the Massachusetts legislature for special home rule legislation that would allow Oak Bluffs to ban mopeds rentals and leases in town.

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.

The home rule petition was drafted by Mr. Rappaport in the spring of last year following a series of public meetings about moped safety and put on this spring’s town meeting warrant by selectmen.

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.

He added that home rule petitions generally pass the legislature easily.

“We are hopeful within the next year that action can be taken on it,” Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour told the Gazette. “It won’t be in time for 2018 season.”

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.

“I think people will be very receptive to it,” Ms. Friedler said, referring to the article.

Ms. Friedler noted that the petition process is slow and moped dangers still exist, though attention has waned.

“People don’t get fired up about this stuff until something bad happens,” said Ms. Friedler. “Once an accident happens this season, people will wonder why mopeds are still allowed.”

Retired Chilmark police chief Timothy Rich agreed that voting on the petition is a major step forward for advocates.

“I think it’s perfect,” he said. “We’ve been working on the moped issue for a really long time.”

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.

“Oak Bluffs residents now have the ability to put something in place to address the problem,” Mr. Rich said. “It’s not political or personal. It’s reality.”

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.

“We shouldn’t want to force a business that’s been around for 30 years to shut down,” said Mr. Rebello. “We don’t do that to people. It shouldn’t be in our nature to do that to neighbors.”

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.”