Lawmakers approve Disney World monorail inspections

·2 min read

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers late Wednesday gave final approval to a bill giving the state the power to inspect the monorail at Disney World, the latest salvo in the feud between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the theme park giant.

DeSantis vowed to end Disney’s power to self-inspect its monorail system as part of his push to end what he calls the corporation’s “special privileges” in Florida.

Under the bill, Disney would be required to submit an annual safety plan to the Florida Department of Transportation with on-site visits every three years to ensure compliance in addition to other periodic evaluations, according to FDOT’s rules for such systems.

State inspections are needed to ensure Disney World visitors are safe, said Rep. Shane Abbott, R-DeFuniak Springs.

“FDOT is looking at inspecting this so we know what issues do arise,” he said. “What this is important for is we don’t know what we don’t know right now.”

The nearly 15-mile monorail averages an estimated 150,000 passengers a day.

Democrats said the measure is too narrowly focused and targets a single business. The bill doesn’t mention Disney by name, but its definition applies to the corporation because it is in a special district that spans two contiguous counties.

“This seems purely politically motivated and targeted toward one company, and that’s not the role government should play,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando.

FDOT inspects other tram systems in Florida, including the one at Orlando International Airport, said Sen. Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, sponsor of the monorail plan.

Inspections will be scheduled at a time agreeable to both the state and Disney, he said. The measure gives the state the power to suspend service to ensure safety, but DiCegile said that would only be done as a last resort.

The monorail system hasn’t been without accidents over the years. A monorail pilot was killed during an accident in 2009 after a failed track switchover. In 2014, 120 people had to be evacuated by Reedy Creek emergency workers when a monorail stalled after a lightning strike temporarily disabled it.

A mechanical failure in October 2015 left tourists stranded between the Magic Kingdom and the Contemporary resort. Firefighters rescued passengers after two hours, but no injuries were reported. And in November 2015 all monorail service was shut down for a day when a monorail car crashed into the car towing it.

State lawmakers are also set to finalize a measure that seeks to bolster the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s authority to void development agreements. The House approved the measure on Wednesday, which heads to the Senate for one final vote.

DeSantis and Disney are in a legal battle over agreements that preserved the corporation’s control over development in Central Florida.

The oversight district’s DeSantis-appointed board voided the agreements, but Disney’s lawyers argue the district is bound to uphold them.