Carriages and buses may be a good way for tourists to see and learn about Charleston. But for the next few months there will be a moratorium on adding any more.
Mayor Joe Riley and City Council on Tuesday backed a temporary halt on allowing any additional certified tourism vehicles in the old and historic zones.
The idea is to let a special committee spend the next few months investigating how to best update Charleston's Tourism Management Plan with the numbers as they are.
"I think it would be prudent to maintain the status quo," Riley said in a letter to council members.
The moratorium covers "certificates of appropriateness" needed by carriages and other touring vehicles, such as minibuses, that are licensed to give tours.
The moratorium will not affect vehicles that already are certified to operate on city streets or for requests that are pending. It would expire Jan. 1.
Charleston already tightly regulates how many tour vehicles can be out on its surface streets. For instance, no more than 20 animal-drawn carriages are allowed to be circulating at any one time. Meanwhile, 24 buses have the certificates, with two more pending, the city said.
Some of those in the tourism industry said they don't expect the moratorium to create a significant local hardship, partly because they haven't seen a great rush by new companies trying to break into the Charleston market.
Others also said the current balance of tour vehicles seems to be working.
"Twenty (carriage permits) is a number we've been able to work with," said Tom Doyle, owner of Palmetto Carriage.
He added "I understand the frustrations of the residents" when it comes to the number of tour vehicles on downtown streets.
Carriage tour operators aren't the only group which didn't expect to see a significant inconvenience. Rick Mosteller, a partner in Gray Line of Charleston, which offers guided minibus tours, said that most tour companies already would have done their financial assessments and investments for the year, pegging April as the start of their heavy season.
"Anybody who is in our business should have their stuff in place and ready to go," he said. An exception would be someone trying to bring in a new service or concept, he added.
Mosteller, who is also a member of the tourism review panel, said there hasn't been much of a change in the number of buses that tour the city on a daily basis in recent times. It's "remained relatively consistent for the last six or eight years," he said.
Charleston is in the process of examining and revising its tourism plan for the first time since 1998. Riley has appointed 24 tourism professionals, historic preservation advocates and neighborhood representatives to the advisory committee. Their charge is to critically examine the current rules.
During a public forum this week, the need for public restrooms in the historic district was one of several issues residents brought up. Also mentioned was residents-only parking and the regulation of special events held on the peninsula.