Town Council, moped operators work toward agreement

Thu, 08/27/2020 - 5:30pm
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At the most recent meeting of the Town Council, First Warden Ken Lacoste said that he and Councilor Martha Ball had spoken with moped operators to address the calls from the community for improved safety measures.

The moped operators had also submitted a letter early in the day on Tuesday, Aug. 25 to the council addressing their thoughts and suggestions for consideration. Councilor Chris Willi recused himself for this discussion, noting that his landlord Mike Finnimore has a moped license.

The following letter was sent to the council from the five moped operations on the island: The Moped Man, Miles Unlimited, Ocean State Bikes, Island’s Moped and Bikes, and Aldo’s Mopeds:

“Dear Members of the Town Council:

“Thank you for the continued dialogue about Block Island traffic safety. As we have discussed, and in line with most other businesses facing reduced capacity due to COVID-19, we have agreed to not contest the temporary reduction in the number of mopeds available for rent. We do urge you to rethink the imposed 5 p.m. closing time, as this is compelling all customers to rent within the same shortened window. We think it more safe and responsible to spread out these rentals, while at the same time, we will not offer any specials that would shift rentals to certain time periods.

“We have also agreed to institute our authorized driver wristband system. This has proven most successful in helping police identify authorized drivers, and for bars and liquor stores to withhold service from them.

“As we reflect on a summer that winds down, we believe most moped issues are a symptom of the underlying problems our community faces: alcohol overconsumption, rowdiness, lack of appropriate infrastructure, and insufficient law enforcement funding. Indeed, this past weekend we all experienced a very different atmosphere on Block Island. Aside from one alcohol-related car accident, there were few other incidents, and most people were well behaved. The restriction on daytime outdoor entertainment and increased police presence undoubtedly made the difference. 

“Going forward, we want to work in concert with the town, because that’s how positive change has always been accomplished; from additional street signage to our annual donations to the B.I. Medical Center and the Rescue Squad. We suggest the root of that cooperation should be a reinstituted Moped Safety Commission, with an expanded charge to deal with the myriad of traffic and pedestrian issues the island faces. Additionally, we fully support a town ordinance requiring helmets for all rental and private bicycle and moped riders, and will aid the town however we can to get this done.”

Before Willi recused himself, he had asked Lacoste to “state what the Town Council can and cannot do legally” in terms of the moped operation.

Lacoste read the original settlement agreement shared between the Town of New Shoreham and moped operators.

“The original settlement agreement, which has been renewed every five years, specifically states that both parties in the agreement, the Town of New Shoreham and the moped operators, both parties waive their right to petition the General Assembly to pass legislation regarding the regulation of mopeds of Block Island during the aforementioned 5-year period. The parties agree to abide by this agreement regardless of any action of the legislature to the extent permitted by law during the aforementioned 5-year period,” said Lacoste.

“It’s the original legislation that prevents the town from taking action to ban all the mopeds and to take back the licenses,” Lacoste continued. “To lower the numbers – [the Town Council] made this suggestion and the motion, and at this time, the moped operators have agreed to go along with it. They agreed to reduce each of the moped operator’s numbers from 34 to 25 mopeds, with the realization that they are doing it on a ‘voluntary basis’ or doing it to comply with the town’s wishes at this time. But any action that would happen which [the moped operators] would not go along with, would certainly not be allowed if we tried to go to the legislature without their consent,” said Lacoste.

Second Warden André Boudreau asked Lacoste to give “a list of things that the operators have agreed to - clarify what the offer is.”

Lacoste provided a synopsis as to what the moped operators have agreed to: “Reduction in moped numbers; wristbands need to be worn by authorized drivers; mandatory proper footwear for riders; use of helmets; improved safety measures to implement in terms of training and authorization; improper use of horns will be frowned upon; enhanced enforcement of all traffic violations; and the dirt road prohibition.”

Outdoor entertainment is back

After also having worked with island hotels and restaurants, Lacoste made a motion “to amend the emergency ordinance pertaining to outdoor entertainment licenses to indicate that all license holders can now operate outdoor entertainment licenses from the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. with a limit of two performers at the venue.”

The council had previously “pulled back the outdoor entertainment licenses as a precautionary measure for COVID-19,” said Lacoste.

The motion was passed unanimously 4-0, with Councilor Chris Willi recused because he holds an outdoor entertainment license.