Town Council continues renewal of moped licenses to March 1

Thu, 02/04/2021 - 5:30pm
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The Town Council agreed on Friday, Jan. 29 to continue discussions on the annual renewal of moped rental licenses for 2021 until March 1. A motion initially made by First Warden André Boudreau to approve the moped licenses, was defeated 3-2. Councilor Keith Stover made a new motion to continue discussions on the matter, which passed unanimously.

Five moped operators are seeking renewals for 2021: Aldo’s Mopeds, The Moped Man, Island Mopeds, Miles-Un-limited, and Ocean State Bikes. Each license would allow the rental of 34 vehicles and would expire on Dec. 31, 2021.

The council, Town Manager Maryanne Crawford, and members of the public, engaged in a lengthy conversation about renewing the licenses, during the virtual meeting.

Crawford announced that the moped operators agreed to the creation of a safety video for moped renters. She has been meeting on an occasional basis with the moped operators since the summer. On Jan. 20, Crawford had announced training on Weldon’s Way, a public road, will not occur in summer 2021.

Selected comments from the meeting

Participants included the councilors, town manager, and Beth Noonan, an attorney representing the moped operators. Among the matters discussed was whether the current agreement between the town and the moped operators, which is up for renewal in 2022, should be rewritten.

Councilor Keith Stover: “We have ample evidence and data that demonstrates that the current rental mopeds are causing health and safety problems. We have heard directly from the people who we trust and love who take care of the health of our community – the rescue and the Medical Center. The emotional toll on the first responders was unacceptable. We have to view 2022 as a critical year for [a new] moped agreement.”

Councilor Mark Emmanuelle: “Over many years, I have taken my own survey on how we got to the position we now have regarding mopeds. From these conversations, I have highlighted three major deficiencies: timid, delinquent and often times cowardly Town Councils who underestimated the severity of the problem; a grossly underachieving police force who [performed] little if any enforcement; and untrustworthy moped owners, whose focus was generated by greed, not caring about the negative byproducts they left in their wake.”

Councilor Martha Ball: “I want to say one thing, in fairness: the moped operators have been involved in discussions since the end of the summer. No one wants a repeat of last summer, including the moped dealers. There are a whole lot of traffic issues. We are not going to get a [rewritten] ordinance done in a month – it takes a long time and a lot of chat.”

Second Warden Sven Risom read from a presentation provided by Block Island Medical Center Director Dr. Tom Warcup, detailing the total moped accidents each year: “In 2017, there were 30 accidents and two air transports. In 2018, there were 39 accidents and two air transports. In 2019 there were 52 accidents and four air transports, and in 2020 there were 67 accidents with 11 air transports. The curve has become extreme. I think we have got to do something.”

Crawford: “The moped owners and I, we are nowhere near done. The expectation is that the meetings will continue in the spring and summer months. We will evaluate decisions, progress and continue to tweak recommendations. The document I presented to you [on Jan. 14] is a living document and we will continue to make changes and think this through.”

First Warden André Boudreau: “We know that enforcement is on us, on the town manager, and we are going to enforce. I don’t know what else there is to say on that. We will be enforcing all the traffic laws.”

Moped attorney Beth Noonan: “I understand there are a lot of emotions, but [the moped operators] have been working with the town manager. The licenses should be renewed, that should happen. It’s not the end of the discussion, but to say the mopeds have been the cause of evil [is not appropriate]. Right now, I think that having this sort of public input is not appropriate to a license hearing. The town is already pushing the time on this. I would ask for these be acted on.”

Comments from the public

Many community members expressed concerns for the need for increased moped safety and enforcement.

Sarah Bacon, founder of #RespectBI: “My main concern is enforcement. Nothing will change without a plan for enforcement. We have been suggesting a moped enforcement officer, appointed by the town or police chief, and the sole responsibility is to make sure the operators are complying with local ordinances, state laws, training, and safety. Again, where has the Town Council been on enforcement?”

Scott Moran: “I wanted to urge a couple of things. One is, not to rush the licenses until you had a chance to consider last year’s accidents and tragic death. I think it would be fair to ask each of the licensees what their plan is to safeguard. They are renting to inexperienced people. This is an amusement park ride. It’s unfortunate people come over to have a good time and don’t understand the risks.”

Keith Lang: “I have been listening to the discussion, and wanted to mention, if we have an issue as a citizen, at the end of the day the Town Council, all of these people work for you. One of the reasons people are so interested in being on this call is to let the council know we support something being done here.”

Everett Shorey: “Moped riding is an inherently dangerous activity where the moped rider on Block Island is 80 times more likely to result in injury, and 35 times more likely to be involved in a reportable incident. Motorcycle riders are about twice as dangerous as cars, so you could say [mopeds are] 40 times more dangerous than a motorcycle. If you look more deeply into the accidents, they are caused by people that lose control on curves and other things related to excessive speed.”

Joe Lipscomb: “The only point I want to make is it’s great the moped owners have agreed to not use Weldon’s Way. But I agree it goes back to enforcement. We can make all the rules we want, but it’s not going to matter until we make the rules and enforce them. The rules are all there, just need to make sure they abide by it.”

Claire Costello: “It is your job [town council] to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’, but there is nothing that compels you to do it tonight. I think there is more than ample evidence of work to be done here. F u r t h e r m o r e , I would question and refer to [Town Solicitor Kathy] Merolla: if you were to grant licenses tonight and then revise the [moped] ordinance, there would be a legal argument that the licenses were issued under the former ordinance and not the ultimate amended ordinance. I caution you to perhaps not do that.”

Susan Hagedorn: “[The safety video proposed by Crawford and the license holders] needs to be guided by people that know how to do health education. If this is part of the plans, please involve those of us who know how to do this – the medical, health, rescue, and police departments.”

Gail Ballard Hall: “One of the reasons we are going through this process is because things have changed since 1984. I think there is enough evidence to regroup and [discuss] the licensing. I also want to say: make a motion and vote to extend this for 30 days.”

Nurse Practitioner Liz Dyer: “I think this summer was bad, and I think the blood was more visible. What I have seen historically is that when mopeds are in accidents, they are not retrieved – sometimes they are put right back on the road. Those mopeds need to be put out of commission. We tend to blame the operators, but sometimes it’s the moped itself. When you talk about enforcement, I support that completely. I think the police have to have tools to promote for safety.”