SM PIER — Alice Hunter doesn’t have a problem being single, but the operators of the iconic Santa Monica Pier Ferris wheel do.
On a whim, Hunter, who recently moved to Brentwood from London, decided to purchase a $5 ticket to ride the wheel at Pacific Park earlier this month. She admits she felt a little “silly” waiting in line by herself, surrounded by families and young couples. But the former ballet dancer turned actress and screenwriter wanted to have some fun on her second visit to the city by the sea.
But when it was her turn to board, Hunter was told “no single riders.”
“I asked, was it because of safety concerns, would it throw the [gondolas] off balance?” Hunter said. “They told me, ‘We don’t know what you might do up there. You might throw yourself off at the top for all we know.’”
The Pacific Park wheel’s gondolas do not have seat belts or other restraints.
Employees at Pacific Park, which operates the world-famous Ferris wheel, offered to ride along with Hunter. If she didn’t want to do that, they suggested she tag along with those in line behind her.
Feeling a bit embarrassed for holding up the line, and not wanting to awkwardly ride with strangers, Hunter accepted a refund and left the pier, wondering, “Somehow a single woman in L.A. is a suicide risk.”
“Ridiculous!” she said. “They need to change [the policy]. A single woman shouldn’t be restricted from going out. And people do go on holiday alone.”
Jeff Klocke, director of marketing and sales at Pacific Park, said the “no single riders” policy has been in effect since July of 2007 when the manufacturer of the wheel, Chance Rides Manufacturing Inc., issued a service bulletin backed by the California Occupational Safety and Health Division (Cal/OSHA) that ordered all operators to only allow two riders or more.
The bulletin was prompted by an incident in Stockton, Calif. when a 6-year-old boy plunged 90 feet to his death from the top of a Ferris wheel while his mother watched from below at the San Joaquin County fair.
The bulletin states: “The ride patron is essentially a stranger to an operator who has limited information as to the suitability of the person wanting to ride. … Parents and caregivers may be unaware that the lack of physical passenger restraint system on some riders puts an unaccompanied child or an individual with certain mental or emotional conditions at risk of serious falls.”
“Safety is our first and foremost concern and we always adhere to state and ride manufacturer direction,” Klocke said. “I get why someone from out of town would go up alone, but safety is the bottom line, despite their frustration.”
Klocke said the park, which has not had a “major accident” since its inception in 1996, receives complaints about the single rider policy on occasion and refunds are offered. The park does encourage people to ride together and will go so far as to have an employee ride with them so they don’t miss out on the experience.
“People come from all across the world and we wouldn’t want to disappoint them,” he said.
Klocke reached out to Hunter and offered to ride with her. Hunter said he also offered her a wristband for unlimited rides on her next visit.
“Ultimately, there is a little hope for single people everywhere,” Hunter said, taking the incident in stride.