New rules look to bridle carriage tour problems

In another hundred years, when the city of Beaufort celebrates its 400th birthday, historians will ponder its book of laws and wonder why grown men and women had to be instructed not to place horse manure in the streets or mark urine spills where none occurred.

To be sure, the recommendations for carriage tour operations from the Tourist Management Advisory Committee won't be proud points in city history, but they are needed just the same.

Seeking primarily to -- excuse the bad pun -- rein in skirmishing carriage operators who have frayed the last nerve of each other and municipal officials alike, the committee recommended to City Council tough additions to the city's tourism ordinance. Tour operators and guides who are deliberately destructive, malicious or dishonest would lose their license to work.

In addition to the aforementioned offenses, operators could not:

  • Tamper with another company's equipment.
  • Deface or alter any city-owned property or equipment.
  • Remove or modify the contents of the "spills" log kept in the downtown kiosk.
  • The committee's recommendations also include a "three-strikes" plan, in which any operator or guide who violates three city laws within a year will lose the right to operate. Although that would technically be a one-year suspension, the loss of revenue could easily put a tour operator out of business.

    These measures give the city the teeth it needs to deal with a situation that is unseemly -- and at times, unsightly. However, these rules will become little more than musty relics if there is no will to enforce them, a point not lost on the carriage-tour operators themselves.

    Rose White of Southurn Rose Buggy Tours, one of two carriage companies operating in the city, called the points system a "tattle-tale" system because it relies on the operators to tell on each other.

    Walter Gay, owner of Sea Island Carriage Co., said, "Any ordinance if it's not enforced, it's not worth the paper it's written on."

    Those responses prompted the committee to add provisions that require the companies to act in good faith. Having made that addition, the committee has done its job.

    Now it's up to City Council.

    Carriage tours are too good for the local economy and too closely associated with local tourism for the council to throw up its collective hands and ban all tours from the streets. And competition between operators is far better for customers than an exclusive franchise for one, so the council should not try to make the problems go away by making one of the companies disappear, too.

    Enforcement by the city will make these rules stick. Fund it.