Scooter Responsibility – a Jeff Cutler diatribe

July 5, 2010

The soapbox isn’t really out of the basement and I’m not shouting from atop it. Mostly because the people who would hear me don’t care much about scooterists’ rights and it’s much too hot on this 5th of July to be standing out in the hot sun proclaiming injustices.

A day after Independence Day, there was a post in the Boston Globe that talked about how the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles was going to start cracking down on scooter owners who improperly register their vehicles. Isn’t this a wildly ridiculous extension of the “ignorance of the law is no defense” clause?

I’d say so, mostly because a first-time scooter owner often knows less about the state regulations governing these odd little vehicles than do the folks at the registry, the traffic department employees, the mayor of Boston and even the local news reporters. Essentially, the government is now holding scooter buyers to a higher standard than they are their own employees.

Let me explain the regulations as I understand them…

A moped is a motorized two-wheeled vehicle that can attain speeds up to 30MPH and has an engine size smaller than 50cc in volume. This vehicle needs a registration sticker, but does not need a plate and does not need to be insured. It can be parked pretty much wherever a bike can be parked.

A scooter is a motorized two-wheeled vehicle that can attain speeds between 30 and 40MPH and has an engine size smaller than 50cc in volume. This vehicle now needs an LU plate, needs to be insured, and technically cannot be parked legally on the sidewalk.

A motorcycle is a motorized two-wheeled vehicle with an engine size 50cc and above. It doesn’t matter if this vehicle is as small as a moped or if it can only travel at 14MPH. It needs a plate, it needs insurance and it cannot be parked on the sidewalk.

For all of these vehicles, you need a driver’s license to operate them. (Remember, this is my understanding – you might NOT need a license for the moped.)

And here is my mini rant about the news handed down today and the existing attitude toward scooters/mopeds/motorcycles in this state…

Parking rules should be based on physical size of a vehicle, not its engine size. When did we decide that two-wheeled vehicles should be governed based on engine volume? If we had the same rules for cars, then four-cylinder, six-cylinder and eight-cylinder cars would all be treated differently. My scooter (a 125cc engine) is smaller than most 50cc engine scoots, yet it must take up an entire parking space. Dumb.

People who buy vehicles shouldn’t be held to a higher knowledge standard than the folks at the AGENCY TASKED WITH ISSUING REGISTRATIONS!! If the person behind the counter at the Registry of Motor Vehicles tells me my vehicle needs a certain type of plate, I believe them. Their job is to know the law. Their job is to know the vehicle and what registration it needs. If they don’t, they should be fired and replaced with folks who DO know the law. This is the same as holding a car owner responsible for knowing all the regulations pertaining to their vehicle. Let’s not be classist when it comes to vehicle registration. Require the Registry personnel to do their job. Dumber.

Find a way to get all state agencies on the same page with enforcement and registration issues. Right now you can park a scooter anywhere on a sidewalk in Boston without fear of a ticket. If you get one, the parking department has PROMISED that it will be dismissed if you fight it. Your scooter can be ANY size and can have ANY plate. (This is kinda dumb – see my size rant in the first bullet.) If you do the same thing in Cambridge, you will get a ticket but you can also fight it and win. And in Somerville it depends on the parking person on duty. Further, if you stop five different meter people you’ll probably get five different stories. The guy I stopped in the BTD truck the other day on Newbury Street told me he hadn’t even heard about the motorcycle meters going into effect in the Back Bay (and these were slated to be in place by July 1).

Finally, hop onto a scooter for a day so you can empathize with owners/operators. Seriously. See how great it is to drive one in the city. See how fantastic it is to get 90-100MPG and have a place to park anywhere you go. Also take a minute to understand that these small vehicles are prone to theft and need to be locked to something – so street hardware and dedicated two-wheel parking zones are necessary. This is the future and Europe has already embraced it. Saves time, saves petroleum, saves money, saves hassles. Get on the stick Boston and Massachusetts – why not embrace something smart for a change instead of focusing on revenue and favors for political friends?

Take a look at some photos and take a minute to share your comments. I’d like to know how automobile drivers feel about scooters – honestly. *Bear in mind, that so many people don’t realize that scooterists need to obey the same traffic laws as everyone else, that there are plenty of scoot riders who buzz around and create a hazard on the roads. I would TOTALLY support increased enforcement of traffic laws for all drivers – cars, scoots and bicyclists (oh, yes, they have to obey traffic laws, too).

What’s your take?