Hit the Brakes

Decision expected soon on suspended bicycle tours in Haleakala Park

By: Karla Aronson

Current Update Below

This is the first Image
For the time being at least, there
are no riders on this Haleakala sunrise ride.
Maui’s Haleakala National Park extended its ban on guided bike tours at least through February, from its initial 60-day suspension enacted Oct. 10.

Park superintendent Marilyn Parris said she anticipated to announce a decision the first week of March and did not foresee anything that would delay that time line.

As reported in TravelAge West in October, the downhill bicycle tour suspension in the park followed the September death of a 65-year-old woman during a commercially guided ride from the mountain’s 10,000-foot summit.

At the time, the death was reported by the park as the third biking fatality in the year, but that claim was later corrected to two biking fatalities. There have been three biking fatalities in the park in the past 24 years since the guided tour operations began.

Individual bike riders are still allowed to ride to and from the 6,800-foot park entrance and the 10,023-foot summit. The seven permitted commercial bicycle tour operators are currently restricted from conducting bike tours in the park. The 40 daily tours had been limited to a maximum of 90,000 annual bicycling clients, a portion of the entire park’s 1.45 million annual visitors in 2006.

While park entrance permits for five of the guided downhill bike tours were suspended, two of the unguided bike tour operators who held permits for vehicle tours to the summit Haleakala Bike Company and Maui Sunriders are still operating their vehicle tours and then launching the self-guided bike tours at the lower-elevation park entrance.

The five permitted guided bike tour companies that were suspended from tour operations in the park have pursued different tactics for survival. Bike It Maui, a small company offering one daily sunrise tour, made the difficult decision not to operate tours during this period and await its 2008 permit approval.

“We are taking reservations for mid-March, but we are telling clients they are not guaranteed,” said co-owner Petra Johnson.

This is the second Image
Bikers get ready to ride Haleakala
Cruiser Phil’s Volcano Riders initially shut down for 90 days but reopened after the suspension was extended. Now they are launching their guided bike tours at the park entrance, cutting 10 miles from the ride below the summit but still allowing for a 26-mile downhill bike ride. As with several of the other guided tour operators, it has also teamed up with Haleakala Bike Company to provide the vehicle ride portion to the park summit.

But according to owner Phil Feliciano, “that is our biggest contention,” he said. “Fifty percent of the tour is already a van tour,” and in bad weather the guided tour operators always had the option to drive the vehicle to the summit and begin the bike tour at the lower-elevation entrance.

But park superintendent Parris explained that the guided bike-tour operators did not have specific vehicle tour permits and that the park had put a hold on all new permit authorizations since August 2006 when it instigated an overall commercial services plan review, which is hoped to be completed in 2008. Paris said the park is trying to accommodate “the best interests of park visitors, park resources and what the park services can manage according to policy.”

Terryl Vencl, executive director of the Maui Visitors Bureau, recommended that travel agents check with the bike tours they work with to obtain their status and get the most up-to-date information.

“It would be best to check with each operator as to what they offer,” she said.

All of the operators said their business had been hit by the sudden suspension of the downhill, guided bike tours in the park. Travel agents, activity agents and hotel concierges moved to the sidelines amid misinformation about which operations continued and the safety liabilities.

In mid-2007 insurance liability rates required of the bike-tour companies increased from $1 million to $3 million. The Hawaii state legislature also enacted legislation allowing the counties to regulate biking industry operations on both state and county roads. Joe Krueger of the engineering division of Maui County’s Public Works Department said the county hired a consultant to undertake a study of the industry. He expects new proposals and ordinances could be enacted by the county this year.

Terryl Vencl said the Maui Visitors Bureau did not have any information that the bicycle-tour industry situation would impact any other visitor sports.

Meanwhile, the five Haleakala Park guided bike tour operators banned together to form the Maui Bicycle Tour Association and hired attorney James Fosbinder to represent them in preparing a safety report submitted to the park. Fosbinder remarked that the rate of bicycle fatalities in the park was below the national average, and that the downhill fatalities tended to occur in a disproportionate number of men over 60 and women over 40, rather than among the commonly most at-risk group, particularly men between 16 and 30.

Fosbinder’s report suggested a number of ways bicycle safety regulations could be improved. The goal is to enable the health-promoting, eco-friendly, biking-industry enthusiasts to continue to be a vital presence in the National Park while at the same time being less of a daily safety concern and nuisance to some.

For now, however, any changes are still to be seen.


General Park Information:
Haleakala National Park

Unguided bike tours outside park entrance:
Haleakala Bike Company

Maui Sunriders Bike Company

Guided bike tours outside park entrance
(permits suspended in park):

Bike It Maui No Ka Oi

Cruiser Phil’s Volcano Riders

Maui Downhill Bicycle Tours

Maui Mountain Cruisers

Mountain Riders


Haleakala National Park extends ban on downhill bicycle tours, permits vehicle tours to summit

By Karla Aronson

In a decision announced March 18, Haleakala National Park on Maui extended its more than five-month moratorium on commercial downhill bicycle rides in the Park until at least 2009. However, the Park will permit five affected guided bicycle tour operators to conduct vehicle-only tours to the Park’s 10,000-foot summit.

“We are very pleased (Haleakala National Park Superintendent) Marilyn Parris has allowed us back in,” said Jon Thuro, owner of Maui Mountain Cruisers. “We have worked with the Park since day one (of the bike tour operations), in 1983.”

Similarly relieved, Petra Johnson, co-owner of Bike it Maui No Ka Oi, which had closed shop awaiting the Park’s decision, said her company was happy to be back in business.

Since the ban was enacted October 10, 2007, following a client fatality, four of the five permitted downhill bike tour companies began launching their guided bike tours at the lower elevation, 6,800-foot Park entrance. In the interim, the companies were obliged to contract with other permitted vehicle tour operators to provide clients van rides to the summit. Two unguided, commercial bicycle tour operators who held vehicle permits for van tours to the summit continued to launch their self-guided bicycle tours at the park entrance. Individual bike riders are still allowed to ride to and from the park entrance and the summit. (See TravelAge West article “Hit the Brakes,” Feb. 18.)

All of the companies had been hard hit economically by the Park’s sudden ban on the downhill volcano bike tours within its borders. As many as 90,000 clients sign up for the tours annually. Bike company representatives said it would be a slow build to return to their prior business levels. During a meeting held March 18, Park superintendent Parris informed the companies the moratorium would hold for a year to a year-and-a-half, they said.

The final fate of the commercial bike tour industry in Haleakala National Park will be determined by a complete review of the activity under the Park’s Commercial Services Plan, initiated in mid-2006. As part of the commercial services review, all impacts of the bike tour industry operations in the Park, beyond just safety considerations, will be evaluated, including the Park’s resources and values.

The safety report undertaken by Haleakala National Park stated the commercially guided bicycle tours “posed moderately high risks to the tour participants” and “an unacceptably high risk to park visitors.” Among 15 proposed standards possibly to be required of the companies, the report listed limiting total group size, evaluating the number of trips per day (formerly 40 trips per day, 19 of which were at sunrise), and establishing a permit condition prohibiting third party bookings. (Visit www.nps.gov/hale to read the full reports.)