West Maui Cycles in Lahaina is like a lot of bike shops. It’s relatively small, offers a nice selection of road and mountain bikes for sale and has a maintenance and repair shop. It also rents bikes–even offers maps so visitors can find a few local sites and, more importantly, not get lost.
“I do not offer tours,” said owner James Boote. “Never have.”
But under proposed new regulations currently pending before a Maui County Council committee, West Maui Cycles’ rental of bikes may actually meet the definition of a “tour,” potentially forcing them to seek an annual permit and pay fees.
“We don’t have hundreds of people on our bikes every day going down the road,” Boote told me last week, adding that any additional permit and fee requirements would “significantly” impact his business. “I’m not feeling that it’s fair. And I’m not sure it’s fair for downhill companies, either. If you’re going to regulate, what about all the surf schools at Breakwall? Or the kayaks at Olowalu?”
The proposed rules have been under development in the county since 2007, when the state gave counties more regulatory authority, though Upcountry residents and activists–who’ve had to deal with multiple downhill bike tour groups descending Haleakala–have been calling for bike tour regulations for about 20 years.
“Over time there has been a proliferation of escorted bicycle tours and unescorted bicycle rental companies, along with a large growth in resident and tourist populations,” states a 2007 Kula Community Association (KCA) position statement on bike tour and rental safety. The statement outlines 17 concerns, including “blockage of the road by tour vans,” “inexperience of some riders” and “lack of mandatory safety checks for all bicycles.”
A county study on bicycle tour safety in 2010 states that Haleakala downhill tours began in 1983. “At present there are seven companies, a relatively stable number that has not changed since the National Park Service decided to prohibit commercial bike tours within Haleakala National Park [following three bike tour fatalities in 2007],” states the report. “These companies have experienced a relatively tumultuous period in the industry beginning with limited access to the national park and the ongoing economic recession.”
The proposed ordinance dealing with bicycle tours came up for discussion during the Mar. 17 meeting of the Maui County Council’s Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee. The bill, nearly seven pages long, includes a host of changes to the industry. Among them:
• “No bicycle tours shall begin prior to 8:00 a.m. during weekdays.”
• “Bicycle tours may not pass through any areas in Makawao or Paia towns that are zoned business country town.”
• “To insure adequate spacing, bicycle tours shall wait at least ten minutes from the time another bicycle tour begins from the same area before beginning a bicycle tour.”
Of those, Phil Feliciano–owner of the downhill bike company Cruiser Phil’s–testified before the Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee that, at least as far as he was concerned, “most” of the rules “seemed to be pretty good.” But he did point out that his company’s research showed that a 10-minute gap between groups was “excessive” and that a three-minute interval was perfectly acceptable.
The proposed ordinance also mandates that all companies show a safety video to riders before the tour starts. Most controversial of all, the new law defines a tour as “a group organized for the traveling from place to place for enjoyment, pleasure, or sightseeing, whether or not a guide is present during the tour.” It’s those last 10 words that concern shops like West Maui Cycles.
When asked about that tour definition at the Mar. 17 committee hearing, Corporation Counsel attorney Michael Hopper said, “I see no distinction” between groups that have guides and those that don’t. Feliciano also said he was happy with the new tour definition, saying it creates an “even playing field.”
One thing missing from the proposed ordinance was any mention of adding pull-outs to the roads used by downhill tour groups. Such pull-outs, longtime KCA activist Dick Mayer said at the Mar. 17 hearing, were “absolutely necessary” and “essential.” Mayer said he “strongly supported” the bill, but also felt pull-outs–which he suggested could be funded through a new $3 registration fee–should run every two miles at least, and every mile if possible. Once the pull-outs were built, Mayer added, the fee should go away. Bobbie Patnode, a KCA member who also testified in favor of the ordinance, told me last week that even without the pullouts, the bill was a huge step forward.
“The pullouts would be great, but let’s get as much as we can,” she said. “A lot can happen without the county spending a nickel.”
Feliciano agreed that pull-outs would help, but chafed at the idea of a new fee.
“The fee right now is $100 to get my bicycle tour permit,” Feliciano said. He added that the current one-time registration fee for each of his bikes is $15. When Councilman Don Couch asked him if tacking on an extra $3 to that bike registration fee was “excessive,” Feliciano said that, yes, “I would say it’s excessive.”
Of course, as with many new ordinances, the whole issue of enforcement is a giant question mark. In fact, during the Mar. 17 Infrastructure Committee hearing Maui PD Lt. Ricky Uedoi said the bill was “outside the scope of the police department.” When pressed for more on why the department was against enforcement, Uedoi backed off slightly.
“What we’re opposed to is enforcing the regulations as far as gaps [between tour groups] not being met–we won’t enforce that,” Uedoi said. “Anything dealing with safety, yes, the police will enforce that.”
Given the Maui PD’s complete lack of enthusiasm for enforcing the bill, the committee then turned to–wait for it–the county Department of Finance (because they issue company licenses). “We could write a letter,” Finance Department Deputy Director Mark Walker told the committee,” but we don’t have the staff.” When pressed, Walker said the department could get additional staff, and place them at the Haleakala crater at 7am.
Failing to come to any agreement on anything at the Mar. 17 hearing, Committee Chairwoman Elle Cochran adjourned to a future date, after the County Council finished its budget talks. At the end of the hearing, Cochrane asked if people like Patnode and Feliciano would get together in a kind of working group. Everyone agreed, but Patnode told me last week that nothing has yet happened. What’s more, though the issue is the preeminent item on the committee’s “List of Matters,” which was published on May 7, the committee hasn’t yet placed it on a future agenda.
And that makes people like West Maui Cycles’ James Boote nervous.
“This is a beautiful place to ride,” Boote said. “Our roads are perfect for it. But if you overregulate, people aren’t going to want to do it anymore.”
Photo: Sean M. Hower