PORTLAND – City officials say the threat of a lawsuit won’t cause them to back down on their decision to require a college student who offers golf cart rides on Peaks Island to be a licensed taxi driver and carry commercial insurance.

“The kid is running a business,” City Councilor John Anton said. “We at the city feel it’s appropriate that he be regulated in a manner that is consistent with other folks in this business.”

Other councilors who voted for the measure said they also won’t reconsider their votes.

Officials at the Maine Heritage Policy Center say the measure is aimed at eliminating the sole competitor for a city-subsidized taxi service on the island.

At a City Hall press conference Wednesday, officials with the conservative think tank said they are giving the City Council a chance to reconsider its decision before they file suit on behalf of the golf cart operator, Matt Rand, 19, of Cape Elizabeth.

The Island Transportation System, a nonprofit that received $20,000 in city funds to buy a van to use as a regulated taxi, asked the council to change the rules because it was losing passengers to Rand and wanted him to have the same costs of doing business as the island system.

Officials of the nonprofit argued they need to boost revenues in the summer so they could stay in business and provide service during the leaner winter months when Rand isn’t around.

Tarren Bragdon, chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, said councilors wanted to get rid of a competitor who found a way to be more efficient than the city-sponsored service.

“The City Council is redefining the rules to say if they can’t win, then they will cheat,” Bragdon said.

Rand has given rides for the past two summers on his battery-operated golf cart, which has a top speed of 10 mph. He does not charge a fare but accepts tips.

The council action on Aug. 16 amended the city’s definition of a taxi fare to include tips.

That change requires Rand, a college student, to buy commercial insurance, which costs as much as $5,000 a year or $1,200 for the summer.

In addition, Rand’s golf cart would have to be inspected to meet safety standards, and Rand would have to obtain a livery license.

David Crocker, an attorney for Maine Heritage Policy Center’s Center for Constitutional Government, said the council action violates due process rights under the Maine constitution and the 5th and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

He said the council has denied Rand’s right to pursue a livelihood.

“The city councilors who voted for this anti-competitive measure should be ashamed of themselves, and they deserve the scorn of the public,” Crocker said.

Crocker said it’s undetermined in which court he’ll file the suit.

Rand said he can’t make enough money with tips to pay for commercial insurance. He currently carries the same liability insurance required for all golf carts that drive on public roads.

City Attorney Gary Wood said governments have the right to regulate passenger service to assure they provide minimum safety standards for the public and adequate insurance.

Councilors Cheryl Leeman, David Marshall and Kevin Donoghue — who all voted to support the measure — said they would not ask for a reconsideration. Councilor Dory Waxman, who also supported the measure, could not be reached for comment.

Leeman said she pondered reconsidering her vote but after some research determined that the city had the right to regulate someone who offers rides for tips.

“We have a responsibility to make sure the public is safe,” she said. “The only way to do that is through regulations.”

Councilor Dan Skolnik, one of three councilors who opposed the rule change, said it didn’t seem fair that the city created a regulation aimed at one person.

Dick Marsh of the Marsh Agency, a Portland insurance company, said he sees both sides of the issue.

While he doesn’t want to squash the spirit of entrepreneurship, he said, he also sees the city’s need to regulate a business that serves the public.

Although the golf cart travels only 10 mph, he said, a person can fall off and become just as disabled as someone involved in a high-speed accident.

“They are protecting the public,” he said of the council. “We have the right to expect any vehicle that carries us for hire to have the protection in place.”

Rand, who spoke at the press conference, said he is pleased to get some legal help.

He said he hopes to return to the island next summer and give people rides on his golf cart.

“If we can reverse this, I will be out there doing the same thing,” he said. “If not, I’ll be out there looking for a job like everyone else.”

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at

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