Police Begin Crackdown On "Illegal" Car Rentals

Jason Graziadei •

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"“We didn’t want a sea of parked cars at the airport...If we ignore this, we are undermining ourselves.” - Select Board member Matt Fee said. Image via Shutterstock

Just one day after the Select Board discussed a formal complaint concerning "illegal rental cars" on the island last Wednesday, Rebecca McCrensky says she got a call directly from Nantucket chief of police Bill Pittman.

McCrensky, who owns the downtown pet store Pawsitivity with her husband, also operates "Becky's Broncos,"  a new Ford Bronco vehicle rental company that they founded to earn additional income to support their family on Nantucket. But in the wake of the complaint filed by two of the island's longstanding car rental agencies, McCrensky and three other companies renting vehicles on Nantucket were contacted by police.

"We were a target of the Select Board’s intimidation tactics utilizing the chief of police to squash new rental car businesses," McCrensky told the Current. "The chief contacted us (Thursday), threatening us with fines of $300 per day unless we shut down."

The basis for the complaint is a section of the town code - Chapter 58 - which governs rental cars on Nantucket through a medallion system and caps the number of rentals at 700 for the entire island. The regulations require companies to obtain a medallion from the town for each rental car they are operating and establish a fine of $300 per day for any violations. Attorney John Perten, who represents Nantucket Rent-A-Car and Affordable Rentals, submitted a list to the town of more than 150 individuals renting vehicles through Turo, the giant online car-sharing platform, along with the names of four small rental car companies - including Becky's Broncos - alleging they are all renting cars on Nantucket illegally without medallions.

“Unless the town enforces its by-law, the island will continue to be flooded by illegal car rentals which will negatively impact the town's quality of life through additional traffic congestion,” Perten wrote to the Select Board. “Neither the town nor my clients can turn a ‘blind eye’ to this very real problem.”

McCrensky confirmed Becky's Broncos has no medallions but, she said, it wasn't for lack of trying.

"We contacted the town last spring to attempt to purchase medallions for our two new rental cars after forming a legal Massachusetts LLC (limited liability company) and getting our cars commercially insured," McCrensky said. "The town informed us no medallions were available, although some of the medallions were being held and not used. The town indicated they had no immediate plan to fix this situation and that they were considering clawing back medallions not being used or possibly issuing new medallions. Per their suggestion, we put our name on a 'medallion wait list' and were essentially told to go away.

"Hertz controls nearly 50 percent of the medallions, some or all of which could be clawed back," McCrensky continued. "If Nantucket is pro-small business, why is the Select Board protecting an $8.7 billion company? Hertz controls more medallions than Turo and all the 'illegal' rental car companies combined."

Last Thursday, Nantucket Police Lt. Angus MacVicar confirmed that the department had been in touch with several of the companies identified in the complaint. It does not appear that the police have targeted individual Turo hosts, but rather the small companies that had established websites and/or advertising of rental cars on Nantucket.

"The Nantucket Police Department spoke with three of the four operators," MacVicar said in an e-mail, referring to the companies named in the complaint letter. "Two of the three operators we spoke to have taken down their website and the third has agreed to do the same. We are still working on contacting the fourth operator. We will continue to monitor this situation and take appropriate follow-up measures to address any violations."

MacVicar did not respond to several follow-up questions regarding the enforcement measures.

In the wake of the Current's reporting on the situation last week, numerous individuals have reached out regarding the island's rental car landscape, stating the established companies enjoy an oligopoly, charge excessive rates, and that the competition from Turo and smaller companies is much needed. Beyond the fact that getting a ferry reservation is difficult and rental cars are expensive, they said, many island residents supplement their income by renting a vehicle on Turo to make ends meet with Nantucket's high cost of living.

McCrensky emphasized several of these arguments.

"The town’s medallions unfairly eliminate competition, which results in higher prices and worse service for consumers both of which are evident in island rental car companies’ largely poor ratings and high prices," McCrensky said. "If the town was not supporting a multi-member monopoly they could also issue more medallions. The rental car bylaw was created in 1988 when the population was less than half of its current size. So the number of occupied homes, vacation rentals, and hotels skyrockets on-island, but the town does not issue even one more medallion during this 35-year period of unprecedented growth?"

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