Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Committee was tasked last week with developing a set of rules to regulate the increasing use of golf carts in the Equestrian Preserve Area and elsewhere.
At the Thursday, Dec. 18 meeting, Village Manager Paul Schofield said that the increasing number of both golf carts and horses, combined with heavier traffic, is causing a critical problem.
“There is a great deal of misinformation out there,” Schofield said, referring to rumors that Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies were now ticketing golf cart drivers. “The village has not changed its policy on golf carts in the 13 years that I have been here.”
He said the village works within state statutes that govern the use of golf carts.
“On the other hand, while the rules are exactly the same, we’re not changing our enforcement practices, either,” Schofield said, explaining that several weeks ago he had received a number of e-mails indicating that the PBSO was ticketing golf cart drivers. “We have not issued golf cart tickets this year.”
He said that several places were targeted for heightened enforcement, primarily around schools, where verbal warnings were given.
“Most of the work we’ve done with golf carts has been in the urban core, principally around the elementary schools,” Schofield said. “We have a view that 7-year-olds should not have to get off the pathways for a golf cart. It should be the other way around. That has pretty much resolved itself.”
Schofield said the fact that deputies have not issued tickets to golf cart drivers does not mean that they will not issue tickets in the event that a driver does something that draws the deputy’s attention, such as texting while driving, being clearly underage, running a stop sign or getting too close to a horse. He added that noisy, off-road motorcycles and ATVs on the trail systems illegally are scaring horses.
“We have to work toward a solution, and I know the solution isn’t going to happen overnight, but the genesis of the solution really should be in this committee,” he said. “You have a better idea of how things work and what can be done.”
The PBSO does do targeted enforcement, particularly if there is a complaint about a specific issue.
“When young people in golf carts are doing the kinds of things that kids do, you’ll see the PBSO out there in force,” Schofield said. “There are also places where ATVs and off-road vehicles tend to be that we’ll do enforcement as well, but by and large our practice is to remain the same as they have been. The laws are unchanged; we’re not doing things vastly differently.”
Schofield said he had attended a recent meeting where people said golf cart drivers were getting tickets. “I asked people in that room who had gotten tickets,” he said. “One person raised his hand, and that was from two years ago.”
However, there has been increasing concern on both sides of the issue on whether to increase enforcement.
“We’re getting some conflicting viewpoints from the equestrian community,” he said. “On the one hand, I have equestrians telling me that golf carts are an essential part of the equestrian lifestyle and that the equestrian community can’t function without them. On the other hand, I have a group of people who are equally concerned that the proliferation of golf carts and off-road vehicles on our trails and roadways is getting to the point where it’s dangerous.”
Schofield agreed that something has to be done, which is probably a combination of regulation and improvements. The village has $2.8 million in the capital budget for multipurpose trail improvements in the Equestrian Preserve Area, and an additional $2.3 million for similar types of improvements in the more urban areas.
“There’s sort of this never-ending debate about where we allow golf carts and where we don’t allow golf carts,” he said. “The statute is very specific. Golf carts are not permitted on public roadways. What is permitted on roadways is a low-speed vehicle that is appropriately registered. That’s probably where we need to move over time.”
Schofield pointed out that one municipality where golf carts are allowed is Key Biscayne, a 1.4-square-mile residential community at the end of an island chain where there is no through traffic. “We don’t have that luxury anywhere in Wellington,” he said.
Schofield reiterated that he thought the solution is to transition to registered, street-legal golf carts, and that the village is under increased pressure to enforce regulations.
“Over time, those vehicles need to be made street-legal,” Schofield said.
He also pointed out that most of the village’s bridle trails are on private property, which further complicates the issue.
“Tell me what you think it ought to be,” Schofield said. “Where we sit is things are changing. When you go back to pre-2006, the traffic was significantly less than what it is today, the development was significantly less, and there has been an explosion of development of homes and barns. There has been a proliferation of stalls that Wellington has never seen in its past.”