By Anna Popnikolova, Assistant editor-in-chief
On September 23, 2021, the Nantucket Public Schools sent out an email to the parents of the district’s students that electric bikes, or “e-bikes”, would be restricted from entering school campus.
According to the email, this rule was based on Massachusetts General Law Chapter 90 Section 1B, which states:
“A motorized bicycle shall not be operated in any way, as defined in Section One within the Commonwealth by any person under sixteen years of age, nor at a speed in excess of twenty-five miles per hour. A motorized bicycle shall not be operated in any way by any person not possessing a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit.”
This law has been in place for a lot longer than students have been using e-bikes on campus, but recent events caused the administration to begin to strictly enforce it. Over the last few years, use of e-bikes on Nantucket, and by students has increased drastically, and now, with more students coming back to school after remote learning, bike use by students is higher than ever.
“Bike racks at both Nantucket High School and Cyrus Peirce Middle School are completely full, and overflowing. It makes sense that more kids are riding their bikes, but the concern is that we have younger students who may or may not know the rules of the road, may or may not be skilled bike handlers, operating e-bikes that can go upwards of 20 mph,” said Nantucket High School Assistant Principal, Ms. Psaradelis, expressing her concerns surrounding e-bike use.
The policy itself stemmed from concerns of student safety, rather than the enforcement of the law. Use of electric and motorized bikes was going overlooked in the school district for years before it was brought to the admin’s attention through reports of dangerous behaviors. Psaradelis claimed that “students have been observed riding between cars, erratically around small children and tearing up athletic fields,” and that it was this unsafe behaviour that “prompted administrators to take a look at use of electric bikes and create a policy around the use of e-bikes on school campus.”
Students under 16 who are not licensed to operate electric bicycles, and do not have the vehicle registered with the school administration are prohibited from using and bringing those vehicles on school property. The offense is punishable by tickets of up to thirty dollars and will be put on a student’s permanent driving record, though the school does not plan on issuing tickets to students. Of course, students, particularly those who have utilized electric bikes to travel to and from school for some time, have opinions on the E-bike restriction.
Benton Killion, a sophomore at Nantucket High School, who has been getting to school every morning with his electric bike, is frustrated with the rule cracking down on e-bikes in particular: “I understand why they would want to limit electric bikes, but the issues that they’re complaining about can also happen with regular bicycles.”
Killion believes that kids can recklessly operate all types of bicycles, not just e-bikes, and that the issue is kids engaging in reckless behaviour, not the motor on the vehicle: “Based on what I have seen from people riding regular bikes, I would say people can be irresponsible on either an electric or normal bike.” He asserted that irresponsibility with vehicles is not limited only to e-bikes, and any student who will behave dangerously will do so independent of whether their transportation is a bike, an e-bike, or a car.
The e-bike policy does create a transportation problem for some students. How students who have been depending on riding their motorized bikes for the commute to and from school will adjust their routines to the new restrictions? For students like Killion, an e-bike is next to their only way to get to school. Other students, particularly those who live farther away from the school, can’t find a different way to travel. Normal biking can be exhausting, and some students don’t even own regular bikes. For those who live more than half an hour by foot away from the school, this is barely a feasible option.
“Now that I can’t use my electric bike to get to school, my father has had to drop me off, and I have no one to bring me home, so I have to walk,” commented Killion.
Killion added that “given the current bus driver shortage, I don’t think it’s a good idea for the district to limit alternative modes of transportation for students getting to and from school.” Bussing has become less accessible, and with even more limitations for transportation, the school district may have the makings of an accumulating transportation issue.
However, some solutions have been offered. Psaradelis agreed that students traveling back and forth from school and home with fewer options is, “a difficult situation,” but explained that “[administration has] worked out an arrangement with some students where the battery is removed from the electric bicycle and it is walked on school campus.” Students who chose to do this must register with Ms. Psaradelis, and park their bikes in front of the school, so while there is still an inconvenience, e-bike transportation is an option.
Motorized bikes, there being a distinction between motorized bikes and e-bikes, do not have a removable battery, so the solutions for students who own motorized bicycles are significantly limited to nonexistent. Motorized bikes need to be registered with the school and operated by individuals at or over the age of 16 with appropriate licensure.
The new mandate has been considered necessary by the administration for the safety of the students. It has pros and cons for certain, and brings up some “difficult situations” which the district is still working to resolve, but for now, students are encouraged, as usual, to self-advocate and contact administration if they are struggling with their commute situation.