Newport seeking regulation of rental transportation due to public safety concerns

NEWPORT – Due to safety and congestion concerns, the Newport city council is seeking to regulate the amount of motorized rental vehicles on its roads, some of which are narrow in size.

The council unanimously passed a resolution on Wednesday night requesting that state legislators amend an existing state law that would authorize the city of Newport to regulate motorized rental vehicles.

The law would be similar to the one that the New Shoreham town council is authorized to use. It is needed for Newport to establish ordinances including but not limited to regulating a fee for any motorized bicycles, tricycles, establish a maximum number of licenses for businesses, and establish the hours during which the vehicles may be rented.

Newport’s Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano told the Providence Business News that the city has seen an unusual and unsafe proliferation of motorized vehicles on its roads this year. She said her office has had more complaints about motorized vehicles than ever before.

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“It’s dangerous,” she said. “We have more vehicles, not only cars, we have the three-wheel cars, motorized skateboards, motorized scooters – there is such a proliferation that it’s almost interfering with pedestrian traffic. So, we want a way to control it, and we’re asking the state legislature to take a look at the ordinance they allowed in New Shoreham.”

Napolitano said the council has sent the resolution to its state legislators, Rep. Lauren H. Carson, D-Newport, and Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Newport, for review and crafting of regulatory legislation. The proposed legislation would be taken up some time in January at the beginning of the state’s legislative session, she said.

Councilmember Kathryn Leonard said Newport has been a traffic congestion nightmare this summer, leading the city council to hire a consulting firm to develop a traffic management plan.

“Mopeds and e-scooters rented to tourists are problematic,” said Leonard. “Many of the rental vehicles are driven by people who do not follow the rules of the road. Public safety is our number one priority. Newport wants to regulate the rental vehicles like Block Island had initiated with Rhode Island legislative approval.”

Leonard said Newport’s roads are narrow, often one-way streets, that are jammed with different types of rental vehicles, such as scooters, mopeds, pedicabs, golf carts and slingshot cars, to name a few. “Many are offered as rental transportation,” she said, noting that the city receives applications from business entities wanting to rent vehicles.

Evan Smith, CEO and president of Discover Newport, the city’s tourism entity, said it’s a public safety issue that affects everyone that lives, works and visits the city.

“This is frustrating everybody,” said Smith. “It’s a system that definitely is in need of oversight and improvement. Everything the city council is doing is appropriate.”

In 2017, a state law providing regulatory authority to New Shoreham’s town council for oversight of vehicle rental businesses on Block Island was enacted. The law, title 31 – Motor and Other vehicles – Chapter 31-19.3 – calls for the regulation of rental of motorized bicycles, motor scooters and motorized tricycles in New Shoreham.
Block Island has experienced fatalities and injuries from rental vehicle traffic incidents over the years. During the summer months, the Block Island Medical Center has reported being besieged with traffic related injuries from moped and scooter operators.
It is something that New Shoreham town councilor Mark Emmanuelle is all too familiar with, having served on the Block Island Rescue Squad.
“I fully support the direction the city of Newport is taking,” Emmanuelle said. “Block Island has been looking for decades for any and all allies in our long standing crusade to highly regulate and hopefully eliminate a moped business that has given our island nothing but negative by-products. It overburdens our volunteer fire and rescue squad and our medical center and staff. The moped business is 100% incompatible with Block Island.”
In late July, the New Shoreham Police Department impounded 21 mopeds due to erratic operation on the island’s roads.
Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at You may also follow him on Twitter @CassiusShuman.