Tubers who enjoy an exhilarating ride in the back of an outfitter's pickup to reach the Guadalupe or Comal River may be disappointed this year. The open-air rides won't be allowed.
The ban on using truck beds to shuttle tubers is just one of several new rules the New Braunfels City Council recently approved to improve regulation of river outfitters and keep tubers safe.
The council also has decided to preserve some street parking for visitors, while debate continues on how to handle short-term rentals -- mainly to vacationers -- in residential neighborhoods.
Tubing season gears up around Memorial Day and lasts through Labor Day. With plenty of rain in recent months, river flow is expected to be good.
Each year, New Braunfels, a city of 53,000, plays host to about 1.5 million visitors to Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort and the two rivers, said Judy Young, director of the New Braunfels Convention and Visitors Bureau. River tourism alone has an estimated impact of $22.5 million per year, she said.
On March 8, council members approved 18 rules regarding water-recreation shuttle services, including the ban on their use of pickups as shuttles. Though in Texas it is legal for people 18 and older to ride in the back of a pickup, New Braunfels Mayor Bruce Boyer said the change addresses a potential safety issue for some revelers.
"People are tired. People may have, perhaps, lost their inhibitions to some extent," Boyer said of tubers exiting the river. "We haven't had a lot of incidents with regard to this, but it really only takes one severe incident ... for it to become a huge problem."
By 2011, the city also will require that all shuttles be designed by the manufacturer to transport passengers. The change will rule out makeshift shuttles crafted from other types of vehicles.
Coley Reno of Texas Tubes said although his company does not utilize pickups, it will phase out three shuttles converted from bread trucks. He said replacing the trucks was already planned. The river outfitter, which put more than 58,000 tubers in the water last year, also operates four shuttle buses, Reno said.
Off the water, visitors may be affected by other approved or contemplated changes.
From the end of March through the beginning of October, the city won't create more permit-parking areas along neighborhood streets a move that protects some street parking for visitors this summer, Boyer said.
Vacationers who want to rent a home in residential New Braunfels may face more limited options. The hot-button issue of short-term rentals has bobbed up during recent council meetings.
The dispute pits those who want to tap into tourist dollars by renting out their homes against those who have been appalled by what they see as disruptive carousing by some visitors. Some residents said they have seen visitors litter, strip off clothing, or urinate in bushes.
"You never know who comes in," said Eva Sanchez, who lives near a property owner who unsuccessfully sought a permit for short-term rentals.
Four properties were found to be housing vacationers without authorization within the past year, said Shannon Mattingly, New Braunfels' director of planning and community development.
The council members will hold a workshop to further discuss short-term rentals within the next two weeks.