In an attempt to gain public input and to get an accurate picture of the downhill bike tour industry on Maui, county contractor Kimura International held a public meeting at Makawao Elementary School Monday evening. About a dozen people showed up to offer various takes on the operation of Halealaka downhill tour companies, expressing concerns ranging from rider safety to traffic.
Thousands of Valley Isle visitors book these tours each year. They involve riding down the road that leads to the Haleakala Summit, a road that descends to sea level more rapidly than any other on the planet. The ride is really more of a glide, and winds down the volcano through virtual moonscapes and cow pastures alike. And, to the chagrin of some Upcountry residents, a few sites laden with local traffic.
Suggestions gathered Monday as well as at a meeting held the following evening in Kula will figure heavily into Kimura’s assessment of the industry on Maui and the recommendations it passes on to the county.
“I foresee some kind of regulation,” said Maui County Councilman Michael Molina, speaking on county actions that would likely result from the study.
The county ordered the $250,000 study on the heels of the National Park Service’s decision to bar tours from operating in the park. That decision was in response to the death of a rider in the fall of 2007 within the boundaries of Haleakala National Park. The study began in May of this year, and its results will likely not be seen until April 2009.
Attendees ranged from tour company owners to vocal community activists who complained that some companies aren’t as stringent about safety and obeying traffic laws as they ought to be. Despite past contention, the meeting hit few snags.
Many in attendance agreed that the bulk of the problems result more from the conduct of certain companies than industry-wide practices.
Phil Feliciano, owner of Cruiser Phil’s, said that regulating the industry is key. A county ordinance setting strict guidelines that standardize rider qualifications, accident reporting and other tour company practices would boost the industry as a whole. Riders on Feliciano’s group tours get an extensive, illustrated safety briefing before embarking downward, and he says he requires his guides to be certified first responders.
Paolo Baricchi, who owns the self-guided tour company Maui Sun Riders, said that physical fitness requirements for riders are vital in the fight to reduce rider injuries on Haleakala.
“It’s not a place where you want to re-learn riding a bike,” he said. “You don’t need to be Lance Armstrong, but you do need to be confident on a bike.”
Part of the discussion revolved around physical improvements to the roadway that might ease some of the traffic strains, given the road’s at times skimpy shoulder and sporadic pullout spots.
Yet some attendees, including Downhill Bike Safety Committee co-founder Mike Perry, questioned the use of taxpayer money for projects that would benefit commercial operations rather than the general public. Perry suggested a $10 per rider tax that would go toward physical improvements and county enforcement of industry-related guidelines.
“If the businesses are going to use it, they should have to pay for it,” Molina said, adding that there has been talk of an industry-wide $1 per rider tax in the past. But $10, he said, “might be a little rough on the industry.”
Kimura will hold a second set of public meetings in October to gain further input. The contractor expects to complete its study of the downhill bike tour industry in January 2009. MTW