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City approves dune buggy business after significant delays

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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
The city won’t let Matt Brown, pictured at home in Waia­lua with one of his Aloha Buggies, register the vehicles. That is preventing him from opening his business. “We have spent our life savings, are in a situation where we can’t pay rent … all because no one seems to care or want to take accountability,” Brown said in an email.

City officials have approved the registration of gas-powered, low-speed vehicles on Oahu after initially denying a startup dune buggy rental business on the North Shore the license to begin operations.

Matt Brown and his wife, Heather, said they invested nearly $1.4 million to open a dune buggy rental shop in Haleiwa based on an email from a city official stating there should be no problem getting the business approved.

The Texas couple moved to the islands in January to open Aloha Buggies.

After shipping a half-dozen buggies to Honolulu, the city Division of Motor Vehicles told them that they wouldn’t be able to register the buggies because state law doesn’t allow gas-powered low-speed vehicles on public streets, though low-speed electric vehicles are acceptable. City officials said the person who had sent the initial email, saying the business would have no problem, has since retired and was wrong to say what he did.

On Wednesday, the city, in an apparent turn around, said it approved the company’s registration on July 10.

“The Department of Customer Services sought a legal opinion regarding the interpretation of existing statutes, and concluded that the vehicles, owned by Aloha Buggies, can be registered, provided that the owner can provide information from the manufacturer documenting that the vehicles are certified to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards,” the city said in a press release.

The Browns, who have been trying to launch the startup for six months, spent more than $500,000 on the business and $100,000 in moving and living expenses, and committed to investing another $700,000 for additional buggies.

“It is with great excitement that we received this approval and we look forward to running our vehicle rental business,” Brown said. 

The company, which opened earlier this year for a week before shutting down, will re-open on Monday, Brown said. It also has plans to offer the buggies in the Waikiki area.

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