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As complaints mount, county looks to regulate bike tours

Some say riders cause traffic, safety hazards; others say new rules are bad for business

A quartet of downhill bikers rounds a turn on Haleakala Highway on Oct. 12. Spurred by complaints from local residents over the traffic and safety hazards caused by downhill biking tours, the county is considering regulating the tours, though companies say the industry has already changed over the years and that new regulations would hurt their businesses. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Local bicycle tour operators and rental companies say a proposed set of rules aimed to further regulate the industry would “jeopardize business,” though other residents say they’re fed up with the traffic and hazards the downhill bikers create Upcountry.

Geared toward the Makawao-Pukalani-Kula and Paia-Haiku community plan areas, the proposed new rules would, among other things, prohibit unguided commercial bicycle tours, require tours to only operate between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., limit tour companies to only one guided bicycle tour per two hours in each community plan area, cap riders to 10 per guided commercial tour and only allow six tour companies to operate in the community plan areas.

The changes were proposed by Maui County Council Member Mike Molina, who holds the Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency seat and introduced the bill Tuesday to the Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee that he chairs.

Molina also proposed a resolution that would urge Mayor Michael Victorino to address public safety, traffic, illegal parking and other concerns related to biking.

Jeremy Hall, co-owner of the nearly 30-year-old Haleakala Bike Company and son to founder Ben Hall, said Tuesday that the proposed rules are “overreaching, anti-small business and anti-tourism.”

A line of downhill bikers rides along Hanamu Road in Olinda on Oct. 12.

“We’re not some Mainland company that’s popped up and is taking money out of the community, using public resources — we’re people who live Upcountry, my employees live Upcountry,” Hall said. “We have self-regulated over the years, we have changed our group sizes to smaller amounts already, we’ve got rid of young riders in our groups — we don’t take kids under 12 — so we are making changes.”

Though the island’s population has increased in the past two decades since many of these companies started their businesses, guided tours have decreased and individual rentals and self-guided tours increased, testifiers said Tuesday.

Some say this is in part due to Haleakala National Park limiting the number of convoys that enter the park during sunrise and later suspending tour vans from beginning tours from within park lines, which also led to a decline in ridership.

Marlon Espinoza, who’s worked in the industry since 2006, said that the proposed rules that would consequently limit participation would “definitely jeopardize our job.”

“We literally talk to these people on the way up about safety, about being courteous, about showing aloha to the community,” Espinoza said. “I’m not going to lie, there’s always at least one bad apple out there, but 99.9 percent of the time, most of our riders do listen to our safety tips . . . I’m begging you, literally, not to go through with this ordinance.”

Most residents who testified in opposition to the rule changes said it’s not the tour or bike rental businesses themselves to blame, but rather the upkeep and safety of the roadways in the Makawao and Kula areas. They also said that they’d prefer bikes to cars.

Aja Eyre, Upcountry resident and avid biker, said that “it is scary and dangerous to ride on our roads,” but that roads are also not just for cars.

“If we have any future that is energy independent and we want to decrease carbon emissions, we have to be more friendly to bikers and we have to encourage biking and walking more,” Eyre added. “I’d rather have 16 tourists on a bike than eight tourists in a car on these roads that I use multiple times a day.”

Still, many residents are fed up with groups of cyclists riding down the highway or on windy streets, saying that the activities are hazardous and create unnecessary traffic.

“I love to see people riding bikes and enjoying the area. I think it’s good for the health of everyone, but I do believe there should be regulations put in place, especially when it comes to Haiku-Kokomo route,” said Haiku resident Jasmine Kilborn, who supported the timeframe restriction, in particular, to keep cyclists from riding during busy traffic hours.

“These roadways were not built for bikes, these roadways are even risky for residents who live here,” Kilborn added. “Visitors don’t know the area, they don’t know the road or what they’re getting themselves into.”

There’s also been a handful of serious accidents and fatalities over the years, resident Albert Perez said, due to long lines of cyclists filling the street during a downhill tour, riders entering blind turns or crossing lanes, motorists trying to pass cyclists, inexperienced riders unaware of road etiquette or cyclists milling in the roadway during rest stops.

“It’s super scary and it’s stressful for residents,” Perez said. “These tours need to be banned completely and we need to provide protected bikeways for recreational riders and we stop these bike companies from taking advantage of public roadway facilities while endangering the public.”

Two accidents involving bicycle tours occurred between 2020 and 2021, including when two bicyclists collided on Makawao Avenue and when a rider lost control of the bike and fell over the handlebars on Haleakala Highway, according to a September letter to the council from Acting Chief of Police Dean Rickard.

The Maui Police Department said in a letter on Monday to the committee that the new rules “will drastically improve the safety and welfare of the bicyclists and vehicle operators of Maui County alike by limiting the number of commercial tours, more clearly defining permit requirements, and increasing penalties.”

Although permits are not required for state highways — 75 percent of tours are conducted on state highways — the bill will help to ensure enforcement measures are taken, MPD said.

A permit is required to operate on county roadways, such as on Baldwin Avenue, Olinda Road, Hanamu Road and Haleakala Highway 377. These roadways were deemed too hazardous to conduct bicycle tour operations, Rickard said.

The proposed penalties listed under unlawful bicycle tour operations will “increase it from a simple violation to a misdemeanor which is satisfactory and is warranted for the offense,” MPD said.

The Kula Community Association had also created a draft bill to regulate commercial bicycle tour companies and rental businesses. While the association’s proposal contains similar recommendations to Molina’s, it also suggests enforcing an age requirement and ensuring that each rider is capable of safely operating the bicycle, which includes prohibiting bicycle tour members or bicycle renters under the age of 14 or over the age of 65 from participating.

Molina said that the committee will discuss the issue again at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, but no legislative decisions will be made. The Kula Community Association’s draft ordinance will also be discussed as well as the idea of possibly merging the two proposals.

Molina said that he would like a decision on the proposed rule changes to be finalized in January.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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