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Posted at 12:48 p.m., Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Maui bike shops concerned about stricter tour rules

By ILIMA LOOMIS
The Maui News

WAILUKU Maui cycling shops fear they could be mistakenly swept up in regulations aimed at downhill bicycle tours.

A bill giving counties more power to regulate bicycles was meant to increase regulations for the ubiquitous downhill tours, lawmakers said. But because it applies to both guided tours and "unguided bicycle rental operations," it could affect shops that rent bikes to visitors just wanting to tool around town.

"They've lumped us in," Scott Emerzian, owner of Rip Current Cyclery in Kahului, told The Maui News.

Rip Current rents bicycles to visitors who mostly cruise the county's new bike path to Paia, or pedal up to Iao Valley, he said. Unlike the "unguided tours," which drive tourists in vans to the gates of Haleakala National Park for the ride down, Emerzian's customers ride out of his Kahului shop on their own.

He doesn't think his was the kind of business lawmakers meant to target, but he now worries he could be facing tougher restrictions as an unintended result.

"I don't want my operation affected by something that has to do with downhilling Haleakala," he said. "I'm not involved with that."

House Bill 349, which gives counties authority to regulate guided bike tours and unguided rentals on both state and county roads, was passed by the Legislature May 1. It is pending action by Gov. Linda Lingle.

County officials have said they plan to use the authority to set stricter rules for bike tours, which now face almost no special restrictions on state and county roads. Setting minimum age limits, requiring a set spacing between groups or even cutting back the total number of tours are options officials said they would consider.

The county has already budgeted $250,000 in 2007-08 to study the bicycle tour industry.

Wailuku Rep. Joe Souki, who co-sponsored the state legislation, said the bill was aimed at escorted and unescorted bike tours, both of which have been the subject of community complaints not regular bike rental shops.

"It was never intended to affect them," he said. "It's just for those who handle the tours. But all the times we do legislation there's unintended consequences."

Since the legislation simply gives counties power to restrict the tours, Souki said he felt any problems could be dealt with when the Maui County Council writes the actual regulations.

"All we did was provide enabling legislation," he said. "They'll have plenty of time to work on this."

But County Council Member Mike Victorino wouldn't rule out including the bike rental shops in the regulations.

"At this point I can't say no," he said. "I gotta look at everything." Victorino, who noted that he worked as a bicycle tour van driver in the 1980s, said he hoped forming a special task force would help give the council "insight" into how best to regulate the industry.

"We want to do a good job so the (riders) are protected from harm, the people who live here are not going to be so upset about the bike tours slowing traffic, and so that what we do will have a long-term positive effect on a great tourist attraction," he said.

Walter Enomoto, president of the Maui Bicycling Alliance, said the legislation "opened the door to hit the wrong group." He said bike rental shops like Emerzian's should be recognized as different from the "unguided tours" that drop off van loads of customers to ride down Haleakala each day.

The rental shops shouldn't be punished for the tours' impacts, he added.

"Show the impact," he said. "What is the impact of individual people renting a bike from a shop? What negative impact has been attributed to them? That's one less rental car on the road."

For more Maui news, visit The Maui News.