Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

Mopeds' uncharted ground

Nichole Burton of Somerville rode her moped to work at the Chestnut Hill Mall on Thursday. But where to park it? (Travis Dove for The Boston Globe)

By Peter DeMarco

July 20, 2008

Nichole Burton's new $2,800 Piaggio Fly 50 moped - the economy version of a Vespa - is saving her hundreds on gasoline, exactly as advertised. But owning a moped comes with its share of problems - foremost being, where the heck are you supposed to park it?

At first Burton left it on the sidewalk, chained like a bicycle to a street sign. But her landlady warned her that it was illegal to park mopeds on the sidewalk in Somerville, and if she did it again, the police said they'd tow it away.

The street was the next likely option, but Somerville doesn't issue residential parking stickers to moped owners. Without a residential sticker, Burton figured she'd get ticketed.

"If I can't legally park it on the sidewalk and I can't park it on my street, what does that mean?" she asked. "It should be one or the other."

Long thought of as nifty toys that happened to get you from Point A to Point B, mopeds are finally getting their due respect as gas-saving wunderkinds that motor up to 100 miles on a single gallon. But as more and more mopeds hit Boston's streets, it's becoming clear that the majority of owners don't know all there is to know about driving them.

Police say that moped owners routinely break driving laws such as speeding (mopeds aren't supposed to exceed 25 miles per hour), passing illegally and not wearing appropriate helmets. Parking is a huge conundrum, as cities and towns, unprepared for the recent explosion in moped popularity, almost uniformly fail to mention them in parking rules and regulations. And as for safety training, it's virtually nonexistent.

"Salesmen are just selling these things as fast as they can," Sergeant Michael Maffei, of the Cambridge Police, told me. "I guarantee that if you walked into a store and said, 'What do I have to do to own one?' the answer would be, 'Nothing.' "

Indeed, most moped owners aren't getting all the information they need. I took Maffei at his word and walked into a local moped store posing as Joe Driver. The salesman said there were no special rules for driving a moped, which is absolutely false. "Just get on it and go," he said with a smile.

But irresponsible dealers aren't the only ones at fault. The Registry of Motor Vehicles has been a latecomer to the craze, with barely a mention of mopeds in the state drivers manual and not a word about them on its website home page (though that's expected to change this very week.) Likewise, local traffic and police departments have been slow to promote moped rules, in part because they haven't quite figured them out themselves.

"Naturally, we want to be accommodating. But sidewalks are made for pedestrians," said Thomas Tinlin, commissioner of the Boston Transportation Department, when asked whether moped owners can park on the sidewalk. "What we want to do is see if we can find appropriate locations for them. We understand we have to find some solution because we're going to be seeing more and more of these in the summer and fall."

When the Globe published a story about a Vespa-driving reporter navigating Boston's harrowing streets, some readers and traffic officials expressed alarm about her apparent violation of at least four traffic rules.

So, amid all this confusion, what should moped owners know before they start driving? We'll start with the basics.

Registration required

Mopeds and "motorized bicycles," which is what they're often called in state law, don't require license plates. But owners must register them with the Registry of Motor Vehicles (a $40 fee every two years) and must carry their registration with them when they ride, even if there's no glove box to keep it in.

The registration form, which you can print out on your home computer and take to RMV, doubles as the moped's official registration and is, without question, the best source of information for any owner about moped driving rules.

Citing Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 90, Section 1, the form lists the differences between a moped and a motorcycle. A moped shouldn't be able go faster than 30 miles per hour. If it can, it should be considered a motorcycle. The engine's cylinder capacity also can't be greater than 50 cubic centimeters, or it should be considered a motorcycle.

Motorcycles are just like cars, requiring a standard vehicle registration, insurance, and a license plate. Motorcycle drivers need a special motorcycle driver's license, which can be obtained after completing several hours of motorcycle training.

Moped owners don't need to insure their vehicles. They don't need any training. They don't even need a driver's license: you can drive a moped so long as you have a learner's permit. Instead of license plates, the Registry issues small, numbered stickers to identify motorized bicycles.

The registration states that moped drivers must obey the same rules of the road that motorists obey, but there are some exceptions.

As mentioned, it's illegal for moped drivers to go faster than 25 miles per hour, no matter what the posted speed limit is. (The fine is $25.) Moped owners are allowed to drive in bicycle lanes, but they must wear motorcycle helmets. Bike helmets don't cut it.

Gray area

However, the registration form leaves a lot out.

Maffei, of the Cambridge Police, said that moped riders often zip to the front of the line at a red light by riding between two lanes of cars. But riding between cars is illegal - motorcyclists and bicyclists aren't supposed to do it, either - and carries a $25 fine.

Many mopeds, including the one I sat on at the dealership, have speedometers that reach 40 miles per hour, which would seem to imply they should be classified as motorcycles. But police can't assume that a particular moped goes that fast unless the maximum speed is printed somewhere on the moped, and usually, it's not.

I asked the RMV whether your car insurance premium would go up (assuming you owned a car) if you got a speeding ticket while driving your new moped. Ann Dufresne, spokeswoman for the Registry, gave me three answers.

If you're guilty of breaking the 25 miles per hour speed limit for mopeds - a limit it appears everyone is exceeding - then all you'll get is a $25 fine. Your insurance and driving record won't be affected because you've broken a moped-specific law.

However, if you're guilty of exceeding the posted speed limit - say, you go 30 miles per hour in a school zone - you should be issued a standard speeding ticket, and that should go on your driving record.

At that point, Dufresne said, it's up to your insurance company to decide whether it will up your rates.

The same logic applies to any moving violation - running a red light, driving drunk, failure to stay within marked lanes - you incur on your moped.

"Case law supports that it should go on your driving record," Dufresne said. "But the insurance companies, a lot of them will forgive certain citations. That's what we've seen with the [statewide] changes with insurance."

Parking

There's no state rule for where you can park your moped, which means it might be legal to park on the sidewalk in one city, and illegal in the next.

I pored over Somerville's traffic regulations to answer Burton's parking dilemma. Mopeds aren't specifically mentioned, so the best I could come up with was this line: "No driver shall allow, permit or suffer any vehicle registered in his name to stand or park . . . upon any sidewalk."

Since you have to register your moped with the RMV, it appeared to me that she couldn't park on the sidewalk.

I called Tom Champion of the mayor's office to double-check. After inquiring with Somerville's legal department, he called back to say that moped owners, including Burton, actually can park on the sidewalk.

"Traffic and Parking personnel may only issue a violation to vehicles that have a license plate. So, as a practical matter, Traffic and Parking Director Jim Kotzuba says that 'mopeds' as defined under state regs - including the smaller Vespas - won't be ticketed for parking on the sidewalk," Champion told me. "The city solicitor and the mayor's office concur. If a parking control officer said anything about ticketing or towing under municipal parking regs, then he or she spoke in error, and Traffic and Parking will ensure that everybody understands the policy."

Champion said Burton could even chain her moped to a pole. His only caveat was that if a moped were blocking a sidewalk, preventing handicapped access, it could be removed by the city.

Could Burton park her moped in the street? "You can't park your moped in a residential street because you don't have a residential permit. But could you park it in a metered space? Yes you could," Champion said.

Tinlin, Boston's transportation commissioner, also said his staff can't issue parking tickets to mopeds parked on sidewalks. However, Boston has rules against chaining bicycles to posts and parking meters. If a moped owner chains her vehicle, parking officials might cut the chain and tow the vehicle.

As for parking a moped on the street in Boston, even in a spot requiring a resident sticker, Tinlin said, "there's nothing on the books that says you can't do that."

Were you to park your moped in front of a fire hydrant, or illegally, it would be towed, of course, he added. In Cambridge, the traffic regulations are fairly clear that it's illegal to park your Vespa on the sidewalk, said Susan Clippinger, director of traffic, parking and transportation.

Still, Cambridge isn't issuing tickets because the majority of moped owners aren't creating problems, and because the city wants to encourage alternative forms of transportation.

"There's a law, and there's what we're actually doing. They're not exactly the same," Clippinger said. "I think, in reality, that if more and more people get these vehicles and start parking them on the sidewalk in a real irresponsible way so you can't get into a store or you can't get a wheelchair down a sidewalk or you can't get out of your car because a Vespa is parked there, we're going to become more aggressive. Otherwise, it's let sleeping dogs lie."

Changes coming

For sure, though, no one is ignoring the rise in mopeds and their effect on city traffic. Boston officials are conferring with major cities from across the country about how they're addressing the sudden increase in two-wheelers. Tinlin said he's also working with Boston's new bicycle coordinator, Nicole Freedman, on moped parking issues.

"Right now we're promoting a program of installing bicycle racks where appropriate around the city for traditional bikes. One of the big questions is, can these racks accommodate something that is motorized," he said.

While nothing's on the books that would stop moped owners from parking on the street, as more mopeds join the commute, "We're going to hear from businesses or other vehicle owners who need that parking space," Tinlin said.

Dufresne, spokeswoman for the Registry, said her office is preparing to release a consumer alert within the next few days warning moped buyers to get the facts before buying. The RMV is also about to post a feature on its website clarifying moped rules and regulations.

Will mopeds ever have license plates? Most traffic officials agree that would help tremendously, as the state doesn't have an electronic database of moped registration numbers that's accessible to law enforcement officials. (Copies of the paper registration forms are kept on file in a drawer at the RMV.)

The Registry isn't ready to take such a leap yet. But as with all things moped these days, Dufresne said, if their popularity keeps soaring, "it's something we'd have to look at."

What drives you nuts? Is there a traffic rule you've always wondered about, or a pet peeve that never fails to annoy you? Tell City Weekly about it at ciweek@globe.com and we'll check it out.

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

Link - while it lasts:

http://www.boston.com/cars/news/articles/2008/07/20/mopeds_uncharted_ground/

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

they should have consulted the khz before writing this. we shall tax them heavily for not offering a payment in tribute to the mopedarmy of boston.

fuck sounds like moped laws are gonna get more strict but at hte same time noones taking care of mopedders. half the time we have to tell the cops our rights and weve been told before by the wenham cops that we are not motor vehicles and must single file at the side of the road or that it is illeagal to ride doubles.

people are getting fucked enough on mopeds only being able to do 30 and not keeping up with cars.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

but theyre talking about scooters so we dont have to listen to that

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

Unfortunatley, the shit is going to hit the fan in terms of what we are gonna have to listen to due to this article and all the chinese shit on the roads.

ive been stopped 3 times since this was written, and in the 3 years before that, not at all.

coincidence? Maybe.

Thats the problem with shit. It splatters.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

i asked the same question in the last post about this article, but got no answer:

the moped law is worded ambiguously - am i actually able to pass cars on the right when theyre stopped in a long line at a light? the official wording is, "Mopeds may keep right when passing a motor vehicle which is in the travel lane of a way," buts thats kind of legalese, and when you think about it, its so vague that its kind of hard to understand.

im convinced im going to get shit about this soon.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

someone email this guy and tell him to talk to the khz. people that ride smart cause its our lives and we didnt rush to buy chinese pieces of shit just save gas.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

My brother already got the business from a cocksmoker cop in coolidge corner the other day for passing in the bike lane. His bike isn't registered...so he didn't press the issue. The cop was trying to tell him that it was illegal to ride his moped in the bike lane.

Total bullshit.

I'm going to register my two super peds as motorcycles so if I ever get pulled over I'll FUCK ANY COP UP.

The PA50, however, will just be a tame city bike.

How lame.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

ive seen legitimate MASS law, clarifying passing on the right, getting passed on the right, doubles, requirments, and fines. none of witch i can site right now...but

sounds like someones cracking down, but i wont let it stop me.... uhg fuck remember when these were just our practical, cheap, absurd hobby? now we got everyone riding, and rules and regulations.

~SABAT!

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

i believe that the only vehicles that can ride doubles are actual motorcycles. bicycles have to ride single file, so i assume that goes for mopeds too.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

just say sorry officer i dont even know these people i just happened to ride and pass a bunch of mopedders. just cause we're riding in close proximity doesnt mean we're cupping eachothers balls (even though we are)

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

Mopedjay,

While a scooter was mentioned in the article; under the law in many states, including mine (Texas), the classification of a vehicle depends on it's engine displacement. My motorized bike is "technically" a motorcycle becaus it has a 70cc engine. If it had 50cc or less it'd be called a moped under the law just like a stock Puch would or an '83 Honda Spree.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

I'm not worried

Herb Cambers is very powerful and nobody's gonna fuck with the cash flow he derives from selling Vespas w/o all the motorcycle regs...

The last time it came up he made the issue disappear :)

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

Our moped reggies have all the laws printed right on the front... and it clearly states that we are allowed to use bicycle lanes and pass cars on the right... and use all bicycle lanes with the exception of off road bicycle paths!

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

here is the info from the RMV website!

All this info is printed right on the front of your registration!

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Operating Requirements

Moped operators are subject to the traffic laws, rules and regulations of the Commonwealth.

Mopeds will have the right to use all public ways in the Commonwealth, except limited access or express state highways where signs prohibiting bicycles have been posted.

Mopeds may use bicycle lanes next to various ways but are excluded from off street recreational paths.

Moped operators must signal their intention to stop or turn by using either hand.

Mopeds may keep right when passing a motor vehicle which is in the travel lane of a way.

Restrictions When Operating a Moped

Mopeds will not be operated:

By any person under 16 years of age.

By any person who does not have a valid license or permit.

At a speed greater than 25 miles per hour.

Without the operator and any passenger wearing a DOT standard helmet.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

If the police ask you questions, tell him you will not answer any questions without your lawyer present and that he should either arrest you or let you go.

You are required to carry the registration on the bike at all times. I would just pull the information out and show him. It is not the law that is confusing, it is the police not knowing what the law actually is that causes the problem.

You may pass on the right, ride in the bike lane etc.

I usually just stay in the lane and move with traffic. I usually do this because it pisses off bike riders when we are tailgating them (I don't blame them) and I have seen too many dooring accidents. Several years ago a bike rider was doored and pushed under a city bus.....you don't want that to be you.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

i know that

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

Oh....I did email the guy who wrote the article telling him that all the laws he mentioned are correct as they apply to mopeds.

The only problem is that every example he gives in his article, like the Vespa he opens with....IS A SCOOTER.

Mass has 3 categories for 'scooters' in terms of how the RMV sees them and registers them:

1) Motorcycles. Anything that is 50cc or greater, and can go over 30mph is techically a motorcycle, needs insurance and a motorcycle's license to be opperated. The cop who snagged me on Super Moby was very clear about this.

2) Mopeds. Like us. 30mph top speed, under 50cc, and apparently no faster road speed of 25mph. Which is weird. Whatever. Can be used in bike lanes and any legal road other than highways and off road bike paths. Can also be parked on sidewalks.

3) Motorized scooters. Like the dumb things you stand on and push with one foot. A goped.

I smoked the poor author about his article....he tried to explain that his information was correct, which it was regarding mopeds....but clearly he meant to be talking about scooters since he was referring the to great trend in Boston of mass scooter influx.

I told him to come down to The Otherside tomorrow and see what a moped is. Think he'll come?

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

oh i hope he does. everybody be nice if he does.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

no groms no blasters /

The Piaggio Fly 50 is a scooter.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

I say we jump and steal his money...

We cannot be seen as a bunch of push-overs. We have to chain whip him...give him something to write about.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

yeah thats more like it

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

Of course, I just threatened him online..so maybe the cops will be waiting for us...

Is what I posted a crime?

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

Nah... you didn't threaten him directly.... just laid out the blueprint for some good old MA shit :D

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

what would make you think we owned mopeds anyways

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

The only thing I could find that is being done legislatively in Massachusetts is a hearing that's gone to committee with regard to scooters in New Bedford.

See:

http://www.mass.gov/legis/185history/h04053.htm

I have testified several times before various joint committees of the legislature. Hearings are public and we do have a voice. If folks are interested in testifying about mopeds at any upcoming hearings I will find out what specific bills are slated to be heard and when.

Most all hearings are in the Gardner Auditorium in the State House. Anybody can testify after signing in, the only thing is sometimes these hearings can drag on for hours and by the time the average citizen gets to testify all the heavy hitters (politicians) are gone.

It's good to know your senators and reps and to know what they're filing in your cities and towns "on your behalf."

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

Cutting and pasting your post in 3 different threads =FAIL!

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

mopeds are lame. I ride Targaped's mom.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

jawadude, goodness gracious. i didn't see you friday night, btw!

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

I was there! Where were you? I ran into Tim and Sondra there. You must have been wearing your invisible pants suit.

Re: Mopeds... get ink in Sundays Boston Globe

i knew i shouldn't have worn those invisible pants!!!

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