MANATEE -- County commissioners may be ready to put the skids on Segway beach tours.
The two-wheeled, personal transporters are popular on the county’s islands, but not everyone appreciates them. A few residents have complained that the little tour groups wheeling along boardwalks in a line like ducklings following their mother take up too much space, go to fast or disturb their peaceful walks.
Still the Segways have grown in popularity since county officials first spotted them about two years ago. And as tour operators started promoting their businesses on the beach, handing out fliers and offering rides, sometimes on beach trails that were off limits to motorized vehicles, the county decided to do something about it.
Rather than ban Segways from the beaches all together, the county decided to pilot a program for Segway tours on Coquina Beach and Leffis Key. Cindy Turner, director of the county’s parks and recreations department, asked vendors to submit proposals for the exclusive rights to operate licensed tours in two county park sites.
The idea was to limit traffic to a licensed operator, giving the county greater control over the Segways and allowing it to assess whether Segway tours could be expanded to other areas of the county.
But Commissioner Joe McClash on Tuesday said he wants to ban the single person vehicles from all county parks. He said if the county were to allow an operator to start giving tours in the county parks, others would see them along the beach paths and just start renting them and coming out on their own.
“I don’t want to have a wild west out there,” McClash said. “I don’t want any Segways.”
Several other commissioners wavered about the idea. They questioned how the county could enforce an exclusive license, whether the county would be liable for any Segway accidents in the parks and whether they should prohibit individual Segway owners from using the paths.
But two commissioners seemed to fully support the idea.
Because the commissioners were split, McClash suggested that they vote on a prohibition on Segways in county parks and preserves during the county’s land use meeting Thursday. Commissioner John Chappie and Chairwoman Carol Whitmore asked instead that the parks and recreation officials meet with the mayor of Bradenton Beach to discuss the idea of offering a franchise agreement.
“I think we need to make our decision first,” McClash argued. “We need to make sure we’ve got agreement first. This is a county park issue first.”
Julie Kirkwood, owner of Segs by the Sea, has been negotiating a franchise agreement with the county. She operates her business along Bridge Street and said beach tours are vital to her business.
“That’s the point of our business,” Kirkwood said. “That’s what we bring to the island, allowing people to see the island in a whole new way.”
Kirkwood said before she takes anyone on a tour, she trains them in how to use the vehicles. For people who want to rent, she offers strict instructions on where they can go and areas to avoid. She also tells them what hazards to watch for, such as potholes and tree branches.
Michael S. Selby, mayor of Anna Maria, told commissioners Tuesday that his beach city is also grappling with the issue of Segways. Because Segways are not considered vehicles, it is difficult to regulate them. Selby said his town is considering creating an ordinance to regulate their use in city limits.
Segway tours are popular in cities like Boston, including the grounds of the Boston Museum, Annapolis, Md., Washington, D.C., and locally, in Sarasota.