Mopeds: they’re cheap to buy and cheap to operate. For starters, they’re fantastically fuel efficient. The law in Virginia does not require liability insurance, which is a significant cost savings by itself. Mopeds are also not taxed the normal sales and use tax when registering, and are not subject to yearly personal property taxes either. Annual safety inspections and emissions tests are not required. For most legal purposes a moped is treated like a bicycle; they can be legally parked on sidewalks and can use bike lanes. The exceptions are that helmets are required by law, and starting this July license plates will also be mandatory.
I recently picked up a used moped for commuting to school. So far my moped’ing experience has been somewhat less than enjoyable. It started with DMV when I got a title and was charged sales and use tax. After going home and double-checking the regulations online, I went back the next day and got it refunded. This would be a non-issue except that the first DMV employee I encountered insisted very rudely that I was wrong and only through patience and perseverance did I make it through to another DMV employee who then promptly resolved the issue.
Because DMV had mistakenly processed my title application like a motorcycle instead of a moped, it was forwarded on to Arlington County to assess property tax. So I had to go to the courthouse to have that bill nullified. Again I was met by an employee who told me I was wrong and only by politely insisting on my case did he finally check the regulation and verify that I did not have to pay property tax.
Both of these issues were easily fixed, but I wonder how much of that is due to the fact that I am an educated white male with years of experience dealing with government. What if I were a poor immigrant with meager English language skills and without the knowledge and ability to lookup the relevant laws and insist on my case against poorly informed county/state employees? How successful would a person in that situation have been?
The best part about mopeds is the tremendous benefit they can represent to the very poor. Cars are expensive to buy and expensive to operate, but some sort of motorized transportation is often necessary in order to hold a job in the transit deserts that exist in the parts of cities where affordable housing can be found. Not everyone can ride a bicycle to work, whether due to bad knees, hilly terrain, or other factors. A moped can be the enabling component that allows someone to earn a living.
The police also seem to be aware of this dynamic. In three years of living in the DC area I have commuted by car and motorcycle and despite breaking many traffic laws in many jurisdictions I’ve never been stopped by the police. In the first week of owning a moped I was stopped twice for minor violations that would likely have been ignored if I had been driving a car. Once the school semester starts again and I am commuting every day I will be curious to see if this was just a stroke of bad luck or if it actually represents some degree of police profiling of moped riders.
Any other moped riders out there care to share their experiences?
Updated 06 March: I was stopped by ACPD again recently. The officer told me I was not allowed to ride a moped on a road with a speed limit of 45mph or greater. I told him I was quite certain that was incorrect, he went back to his car to check the statute, came back and said it was taking a long time to download so he would let me go. Bogus. I have a printed copy of the Virginia statute under the seat now.