|(Photo: Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles)|
Changes to the Florida Statute on specialty license plates would cut Bike Florida Inc. and the Florida Bicycle Association Inc.’s share of the extra fees for the license plate and give up to half of the money to a privately held company, The Cycling Association of Florida.
"Share the Road" is one of 123 Florida specialty license plates covering a variety of interests, causes, colleges and universities. The $15 that the 10,000 or so Share the Road license plate holders pay in addition to registration fees contributed about $65,000 to Bike Florida’s annual budget, executive director Becky Afonso said. The money is used for marketing the plate, education and programming she said. But under the amendment filed by Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello,the nonprofit Florida Sports Association would receive and distribute the money and could use up to 25 percent for administration costs, and The Cycling Association could get up to 50 percent of extra fee revenue.
In addition, the amendment calls for raising the fee from $15 to $25 for a "Share the Road" plate. "I have no idea how this has come to pass this way. It's mind-blowing that its happening," said bicycle consulting business owner and former Florida Bicycle Association board member Dan Moser. "And they're moving the price point up to $25? That's a great way to make sure you don't make your goal," the Fort Myers man said, referring to minimum sales annual sales requirement specialty plates. That too is being considered raising the number from 1,000 to 4,000, but for all plates not just Share the Road.
Nearly one in 10 vehicles in Southwest Florida features a specialty license plate. See which options are the most popular in the five-county region. Video by Dave Breitenstein/news-press.com Dave Breitenstein/news-press.com
The “Share the Road” license plate was signed into law in 1999 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush and sales began in 2000. The legislation called for the fee purchases paid to be distributed to Bike Florida, which could use up to 25 percent for marketing and promotion of the license plate. The remaining funds were to be divided equally between Bike Florida, based in Alachua County, and the Oldsmar-based Florida Bicycle Association, and used for bicycle and motorist safety programs and to promote safe bicycling.
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 6,663 bicycle crashes in Florida in 2016 and 137 fatalities. As of April 23, there have been 29 bicycle deaths in Florida this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2015 that Florida had the highest rate of bicyclist deaths of any U.S. state with 0.57 deaths per 100,000 people, double the national average.
Formed to make Florida a “state where bicycling is safe, respected and encouraged as a means of transportation and recreation,” the Florida Bicycle Association was incorporated in 1997 as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization. By contrast, Tallahassee-based Cycling Association, state records show, filed as a corporation on April 17. The only officer listed is Kenneth W. Foster, a former employee of Bike Florida Inc. and an officer in a cellphone repair business.
Foster’s LinkedIn profile lists several cycling organization affiliations, including a two-year stint as the executive director of Bicycle Tallahassee and the owner of a bicycle retail store from 1992-2001.
Several attempts to reach Foster by phone were unsuccessful. The legislative assistant for Beshears said the legislator was in meetings all of Monday morning. She said he would try to call in the afternoon but if he couldn't she would try to get a statement to The News-Press by email. No call or statement was received prior to publication.
“Florida statutes outline which organization(s) receive the funds and the amount distributed. The organization(s) or amount can change pursuant to a change in statute,” Alexis Bakofsky, press secretary for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wrote in response to an inquiry from The News-Press. “The monies can be distributed to a for-profit organization, but the monies cannot be used for for-profit activities, per F.S. 320.08056(10)(a).”
But Afonso questions if switching the beneficiary of the money is fair to the organizations that gained approval of the plate nearly 20 years ago, or fair to the 10,000-plus taxpayers who pay extra every year for a “Share the Road” license plate.
“People put their money into that plate,” Afonso said. “And it’s going to go to a company with no track record and no history.”