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Complex bus ordinance gets tabled by council again

May 7, 2014
By MCKENZIE CASSIDY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

For most residents, finding a solution to the island's proposed bus ordinance sounds quick and easy, yet on May 6 city council decided to continue studying the issue.

The ordinance, which would allow the city to regulate local bus activity, has been on council's agenda since the end of 2013 but there are many issues to take into consideration -- the environment, the economy, and public safety, for instance.

Council had previously decided to prohibit the parking, stopping, or standing of any motor vehicle with 10 or more people with the intent of letting passengers get on or off, but after a presentation by Public Works Director Keith Williams they questioned whether larger buses could in fact be accommodated.

After a last minute analysis of parking lots at Lighthouse Beach, Bowman's Beach, and near the Tarpon Bay Explorers, Williams determined that a smaller bus measuring 36-feet long, and holding as many as 22 passengers, could navigate safely without damaging the environment.

"Clearly, a 50 passenger tour bus doesn't fit on the island, from a safety and environmental impact standpoint," said Vice Mayor Doug Congress. "But, I also do believe, a 22-person bus or less, if we can find a parking solution for them and they can pay for parking, that makes sense to me."

Council Member Mick Denham questioned whether 36-feet was still too large, from the perspective of damaging the environment around the beach and putting pedestrians in danger.

Council's consideration of a 36-foot bus is an attempt to compromise on the issue, balancing environmental and safety concerns with not wanting the island to appear it's closed for business.

City staff completed a survey of tour buses visiting the island between March 5 and April 21. A total of 17 buses visited the island and 56 percent of them were from Florida. Sixty-five percent of the buses were on day trips.

One of main questions asked by council was what affect the visitors had on the local economy? According to the survey, 41 percent of bus visitors said they went shopping, 29 percent dined on the island, and 18 percent stayed in local hotels. Of the visitors who were on multi-day trips, only 28 percent admitted to staying on the island.

Council gave direction to staff to find potential locations that could act as either drop-off points or parking spaces, and would also have the least impact on the surrounding environment. They also decided not to change the language of the ordinance at this time.

Chris Heidrick, speaking on behalf of the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce, said the issue isn't buses on the island, but rather the use of restricted parking area.

"I think that as we talk about the safety issue, whether it's a vehicle with four passengers or 50, there should be a designated loading and unloading area," he said.

The city council will likely revisit the proposed ordinance at its June 3 meeting at 9 a.m. inside MacKenzie Hall.



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