Public ATV program plagued with technical problems

The county of Maui and Manimal partnered to provide a public ATV service a little over a month ago, but the program has suffered from a number of major technical issues since its inception. Many are saying the self driving vehicles are a menace, while others are calling for an immediate end to the service. Despite numerous updates and a recall in the first week to fix an overheating battery issue, the program continues to be plagued with problems. This weekend alone, the service logged over 30 complaints and left one family stranded almost 4 miles from the nearest charging station.

The preservation zone expansion in Lahaina a few months ago put greater restrictions on the number of ATVs allowed inside its borders, as well as the number of businesses allowed to rent the vehicles. In response, the Mayors office and Manimal teamed up to offer a first of a kind public ATV program. The service was designed to give better control over all terrain vehicles traveling through sensitive areas, and allow tourists to still participate in the popular way to see the island. 45 public all-terrain vehicles, in 5 different locations are currently available in the Lahaina area. However, things haven’t gone well.

First, the vehicles self-driving and navigation systems leave much to be desired. Unfortunately it has become common to see the vehicles driving through yards, circling around in parking lots, or even becoming stuck against buildings. Owner of a local maker commune within the preservation zone, Ano Lee says he sees a lot of malfunctioning ATVs.

“We like to call them Self Crashing ATVs or SCATVs. We had one crawl up an embankment and run into the side of the printer shed with a couple of tourists inside. It just sat there, slowly spinning its tires in the grass. It took the Manimal tech over an hour to get down here and she had to disconnect the battery just to get it to stop. I can’t tell you how many people have hiked up here for help after one of these things hit a tree or drove down into a ditch. The only thing extreme about the Manimal ATVs is how extremely bad the navigation system is.”

The ATVs are also excruciatingly slow, with a top speed equal to a brisk walk. A commercial promoting the service with Tony “Half-Barrel” Kahale says that the slow speed is to ensure, “Nobody spills their Manimal.” In truth, the limited speed is a liability and insurance issue. It was thought at the time that slow speeds would make passengers safer, but it has proven to be just the opposite. Drivers have lodged numerous complaints about the vehicles impeding the flow of traffic. Coupled with the navigation issues, many worry that it is only a matter of time before a serious accident occurs.

In addition, there have been a number of other technical issues. The program was shut down 4 days after it began because of a number of battery fires. There hasn’t been a fire since the power cables were replaced in all units, but one other early bug is still plaguing the service. The ATV’s power indicators seem to be defective. This issue has left countless tourists stranded as their vehicles suddenly stop. 35-year-old Randy Wilcox and his family were enjoying their vacation until their vehicle rolled to a stop without warning, in the bottom of a gulch, 4 miles from the nearest charging station.

The Mayor’s Office has been scrambling to try and offer solutions to the numerous issues. Mayor Cravalho himself seems open to scrapping the program calling it, “a PR nightmare,” and he’s not alone. Many on the city council agree. A push to shut down the fledgling program is gaining momentum, but not everyone involved with the project seems to have such a negative view.

Manimal CEO Spencer Kane says the program is just experiencing growing pains.

“I’ll be honest. I’m super bummed about the fires and the gauges not working right. That stuff should have been working on day one. But the stuff about getting lost, and driving through yards… you got to expect a few bumps when you’re blazing a new trail. We’re talking about complex systems, that take a specialized group of technicians and engineers. I’ve let them all know how uncool driving around in a circle at a shopping center is and they agree. We’re all on the same page now, and we have a super-good new approach to fixing these bugs and making sure they don’t pop up again. I’d like to encourage anyone who’s on the fence to go ahead and strap in and enjoy a ride. An automated trip down the beach is almost as refreshing as an ice cold Manimal!”