Updated: May 10, 2022 07:57 AM
Karen Border, executive director of the Bermuda National Trust (File photograph by Akil Simmons)
Environmental charities have expressed disappointment in the Government’s decision to retable legislation that expands options for tour vehicles to operate in public parks.
On Friday, Lawrence Scott, the Minister of Transport, tabled the Motor Cars (Livery) Amendment Act 2022 which is identical to the 2021 amendment approved in the House of Assembly last year to expand the types of vehicles that can be used on guided tours.
The legislation reverses amendments put forward last year by the One Bermuda Alliance and approved by the Senate.
Mr Scott said that the Opposition and Independent Senators’ clause, which would ban guided vehicle tours in public parks on the basis of safety and environmental concerns, would have blocked taxis from the island’s parks and that the proposal was discriminatory.
Karen Border, the executive director for the Bermuda National Trust, said she was disappointed there was no amendment specifically banning guided tour vehicles from the natural areas of national parks.
She said: “We understand that the amendment added by the Senate in 2021 was somewhat broad in its wording, which may have been problematic.
“However, it would have been a relatively simple matter of careful drafting to include an amendment that would allow taxis and other guided vehicles to use the car parks and access roads within parks, where motorised vehicles driven by the general public are already allowed, while specifying that they cannot be used within the parks themselves where only park maintenance vehicles and emergency vehicles are allowed.
“Minister Scott has said that he will not issue licences to permit guided tour vehicles in national parks and therefore such an amendment was unnecessary.
“We take the minister at his word. However, without legislative safeguards, it will remain at the discretion of future Ministers of Transport, who may take a different approach. We fear that this is an issue that may yet rear its ahead again at some point in the future.”
Ms Border said that the BNT does not wish to prevent entrepreneurs from being able to offer new experiences in Bermuda but said guided tours should be offered in “appropriate locations“.
However, she added: “The vast majority of Bermuda residents, who have expressed an opinion, have been clear that they do not want to see the quiet enjoyment of our national parks sacrificed for the commercial gain of a few private businesses.
“Unlike the vast national parks of North America where a variety of activities can coexist, our national parks are far too small for guided vehicles to share the space with those who wish to walk, picnic and enjoy the outdoors in a natural and peaceful way.”
Kim Smith, the executive director of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce
Kim Smith, executive director for the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, said the minister’s assertion that the legislation was discriminatory was “confusing”.
She said: “Taxi tours can go into the parks wherever vehicles are allowed to go – up the roads and into the parking areas for the most part, to deliver visitors to a park site so that they can explore the attraction on foot. This would be exactly the same for the newly-classified ‘guided tour vehicles’.
“Trusting that my understanding is correct, I am now left wondering if the issue is really one of what is not being said? That the Government is wanting these ‘guided tour vehicles’ to be allowed to run along the railway trails?
“If that is indeed what they are wanting to say, then it should be stated explicitly so that we can have a full and open discussion on that critical point.”
Mr Scott said in Parliament: “Public service vehicles, taxis, limousines, and minibuses, take our visitors on tours that drive through and stop for a visit to our national parks.
“Our visitors experience flora, forts, beaches, historical artefacts, and the like.
“It is most unfortunate that the Opposition put forward a proposal that is discriminatory towards guided tour vehicles effectively rendering the service pointless, as they would not have access to the areas we most want to showcase and visitors come to Bermuda to see.”
Since the amended Bill was passed by the Senate last December, Mr Scott said the Ministry of Transport had met with members of the Senate, environmental agencies, and members of the public to answer questions and address concerns about the legislation.
He said restrictions are in place for vehicles in public parks and the legislation specifies that tour vehicles would only be able to operate on agreed routes.
Mr Scott said that protected areas including sand dunes and beaches will continue to be safeguarded.
He added that only one application to offer such tours had been made, that being for someone who sought to operate three-wheeled vehicles popular in Asia known as tuk tuks.