BOSTON --- Breaking a long silence, two Island moped rental dealers gave impassioned testimony at the state house on Thursday against a home rule petition that would give the town of Oak Bluffs the authority to regulate the motor scooters.

The bill, H.1783, is sponsored by Cape and Islands Rep. Dylan Fernandes and would authorize Oak Bluffs voters to adopt a change in town bylaws to prohibit the commercial lease or rental of mopeds and motor scooters to the public.

Currently, the state controls regulations on transportation through Chapter 90 of the general laws. The bill would effectively change that for Oak Bluffs.

Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government held the sparsely attended hearing. — Noah Asimow

“It would be a death sentence [for the moped businesses],” said Mike Tierney, who manages the three moped rental businesses in the town: Kings Rentals, Ride-on Mopeds and Island Hopper Rentals.

The hearing was held before the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government. Scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., proceedings started about 10 minutes late, with Senate chairman Becca Rausch and House chairman James O’Day arriving bleary-eyed and sleepless. Wednesday was the last formal day of the 2019 legislative session, and most lawmakers were on Beacon Hill until 1 a.m. voting on last-minute legislation.

“I’ll call to order this feeling-like-early but not actually early hearing,” Senator Rausch told a sparse gathering of less than a dozen listeners in the auditorium. Other than Rep. Jonathan Hecht and vice-chairman Rep. Thomas Stanley, most committee members did not make the hearing, including Cape and Islands Sen. Julian Cyr.

Although the town of Oak Bluffs submitted written testimony, no one testified in person in support of the bill.

It has been a long road for the proposed rental moped ban, with many starts, stops and stalls along the way. Last year, the bill was filed late in the legislative session but died in committee after legislators expressed concerns about precedent for other Massachusetts cities and towns. Moped rental companies also lobbied against the previous version of the bill.

The bill was refiled at the beginning of the 2019 legislative session. Home rule petitions have a two-year lifespan, meaning this iteration of the bill will have the 2020 legislative session to move through committees.

The last-minute nature of Thursday’s hearing prevented many of the bill’s supporters from making the trek to Boston, leaving Mr. Tierney and John Leone, owner of the three moped rental companies, the lone people to testify against the proposed home rule petition.

In his opening statement, Mr. Tierney said the town had already done substantial work gutting the moped rental industry since a grisly crash that occurred in 2016, reducing the number of rental permits by approximately 75 per cent, from 677 to 168. Framing his testimony around statistics, Mr. Tierney added  there were 12 incidents this past summer involving his companies, representing .03 per cent of their approximately 9,000 moped rentals in 2019, and only nine involved the police.

“I am sensitive to the concerns of the residents of the Island and their feelings toward mopeds,” Mr. Tierney said. “I cannot promise that there will be no accidents in the future, but we do our best from our end to prevent any through proper training and evaluation of every rider . . . the new management [over the past two years] has changed the direction of the moped rental business in Oak Bluffs.”

He added that the companies will take customers off mopeds if they feel they cannot properly operate them.

But Senator Rausch had a different perspective, reminding Mr. Tierney that the proposed legislation was merely a home rule petition that would allow the town to vote on regulating moped rentals during town meeting. It is not an outright ban, he said.

“One of the things we try to do is figure out what the right balance is between state government and local government,” she said. “Where does the right balance get struck on this issue? Because there’s certainly an argument to be made that this is a decision for the town to make, and this bill simply provides the processing power for that vote . . . It sounds to me like a local question that the town could decide for itself.”

Mr. Tierney and Mr. Leone said if the legislation passes, it would effectively end their essential tourist business, and set a precedent that would allow angered residents to push through other legislation that threatens other forms of rental transportation. They argued that would lead to more cars, and greater congestion on an already crowded Island during the summer season.

“Our main industry is tourism . . . that is how we all survive and make our living,” Mr. Leone said. “It becomes a slippery slope and a snowball effect. Okay, we don’t want mopeds, so we got rid of them. Maybe tour buses are then the problem? Maybe then we get rid of those. And then bicycles.”

“It seems like the moped is easy picking,” he added, arguing that he would feel safer on a moped in many instances, like going down a hill, than on a bicycle. “If you pass this, you’re going to have Nantucket, you’re going to have all the other towns asking for the same thing because of the fact that people don’t like them. It’s not a big safety hazard, I don’t think.”

Representative Hecht pushed back against some of the testimony from Mr. Leone, saying that he could understand why the town might want to regulate the moped industry. And he disagreed with the comparison to bicycles.

“I think it is fundamentally different from a bicycle,” the representative said. “As I listen to your answers, I think I can see why mopeds are a particular part of people’s concerns. They are on the roads. They are part of the regular traffic flow. They are moving at a pretty high speed. Maybe they are limited by law to 25 miles per hour, but it doesn’t sound like by functionality they are limited . . . I think it’s a different matter driving a vehicle with an engine on it, where on a bike, if you stop pedaling, it slows down.”

Mr. Hecht also said he sympathized with the concerns of the dealers as businessmen, as did other committee members.

The hearing adjourned after about 30 minutes of testimony from Mr. Tierney and Mr. Leone.

Contacted before the hearing, Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour said the town supported the bill and hoped it would make its way through the legislature.

“We’re very happy to see the hearing moving forward on this important local determination issue. As you know, the law portends to give the towns actual legal authority to regulate the mopeds, which we don’t have now,” Mr. Whritenour said

The bill will eventually have to go through two more committees in the House and Senate before it comes up for a vote.

In a brief conversation at the state house after the hearing, Mr. Fernandes said the bill could face challenges at the committee level.

Earlier, Mr. Tierney concluded by saying that he felt 168 was a good number for moped licenses, and said a ban on all rental mopeds would be unnecessary.

“I think it has already come down to a comfortable level of where it is,” he said. “But they want it down to zero.”