Although gas prices in the Boston area are back down to near $2/gallon levels, the sharp increase over the summer drove many locals to explore other transportation options. Limited as the T is, it is no wonder that a two-wheeled alternative took off in the form of european-modeled mopeds screaming down city streets at 80+ miles per gallon.
In Massachusetts, a moped is any two-wheeled vehicle with an engine size under 50ccs, an automatic transmission, and that is incapable of traveling over 30mph. The registry requires a sticker to be purchased ($40 for two years), but mopeds are not plated and do not require insurance (nor can they obtain it even if they wanted to from the accounts I’ve heard). They are allowed to legally pass on the right and use bike lanes on city streets, but are bound by local speed limits. These edge-of-the-law vehicles are considered motorized bicycles by the RMV, but in light of the modifications being made to many models, and the simple fact that a 30mph flat ground speed often results in much higher downhill speeds, these two-wheelers can occasionally be seen cruising in excess of 40mph in and around the greater Boston area.
Of course the #1 advantage to a moped in Boston is the parking situation. No need to find a space, feed a meter, or deal with garages. Mopeds can be parked and locked next to bicycles or against any sign or lightpost in the city without much trouble. Without plates, it seems unlikely that a ticket could be issued even if a parking enforcer wanted to.
There are a few dangers to the riders when it comes to legal matters. For example, when a moped does cross 30mph, it is technically an unlicensed, uninsured motorcycle and there have been a few reports of moped owners being stopped on this charge in municipalities surrounding Boston. The trouble is that even if a scooter can travel over 30mph, with a sub-50cc engine the RMV seems reluctant to grant motorcycle plates. The insurance issue is also a potential danger should a moped rider collide with a pedestrian or another vehicle and cause damage.
On the regulation front lines, the RMV task force reviewing laws for green vehicles that was established in August of this year is also looking at moped laws, no doubt with an interest in updating the rules to keep up with the increase in these vehicles.
Although the number of mopeds on the streets has decreased as the weather has cooled, it will be interesting to see what the coming spring brings with a generation of incoming university students recently stung by high gas prices at home.