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Registry clarifies new scooter law

Owners can park on sidewalks until sticker expires

By Peter DeMarco
Globe Correspondent / July 28, 2009

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A large number of scooter owners across the state should be able to keep their free sidewalk parking at least through the end of 2010, thanks to a significant rule clarification disclosed yesterday on the Registry of Motor Vehicles website.

Owners whose bikes can travel faster than 30 miles per hour but not faster than 40 - including many of the most popular Vespas and Hondas - learned last week they would need license plates as of Aug. 1, according to a new state law.

But yesterday, the Registry said such bike owners will need to apply for “limited-use’’ license plates only after their current moped registration stickers expire.

Since moped registrations are valid for two years, scooter owners who have registered their vehicles since January will be able to continue to operate them through Dec. 31, 2010, as plateless mopeds, parking them for free on sidewalks in most communities.

Owners whose registrations expire this year will at least be able to finish out the summer and fall without fear of getting ticketed.

“I’m definitely more inclined to take whatever action is necessary to maintain my vehicle’s status as a moped, rather than register it in Massachusetts as some other type of vehicle,’’ said Sean Fitzroy, a Cambridge scooter owner who has started a website, savescooters.com, against the new limited-use law.

The rule applies even to those scooter owners who have inaccurately registered their vehicles as slower mopeds, said Registry spokeswoman Ann Dufresne. Hundreds, if not thousands, of scooter owners appear to fall in that category because of previously lax registration policies.

Boston parking officials granted scooter owners a reprieve Friday, when they promised that scooters parked on city sidewalks with “limited-use’’ plates would not be ticketed come Aug. 1, or anytime soon, even though city laws require any vehicle with a license plate to be ticketed $65 when parked on the sidewalk.

But the Registry’s clarification affects all of Massachusetts, and could buy valuable time for hundreds of communities to revisit or beef up their parking options for scooter and motorcycles.

Yesterday, Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Thomas Tinlin reiterated through a spokesman the city would continue to work toward long-term solutions for scooter and motorcycle parking, with public input welcomed.

Nor did the Registry’s disclosure affect plans for a “scoot-in’’ rally Thursday morning in which scooter owners hope to arrive at both the Boston Common and the State House en masse and fill every available metered spot.

Rally organizers say they want Boston to issue official sidewalk parking stickers for smaller bikes, even those that legally qualify as motorcycles because of larger engine sizes, so owners can park without fear of breaking the law.

“Photos [of the rally] will be taken to illustrate how idiotic it is to put a tiny scoot in a full-size space,’’ said organizer Jeff Cutler.

Dufresne, the Registry’s spokeswoman, said people who register new scooters starting Aug. 1 would have to comply with the limited-use law and obtain both plates and insurance for their vehicles.

For the time being, those applicants also will need to obtain either a motorcycle learner’s permit or a motorcycle driving license, as will any scooter owner who re-registers his or her vehicle after their current registration expires.

The Registry, however, is in the process of drafting legislation to eliminate the permit/licensing requirement, which was not disclosed when the limited-use law was publicized last week, Dufresne said.