Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Tom Bell firstname.lastname@example.org
PORTLAND — The City Council voted 5-3 Monday to effectively require that people who offer rides on golf carts for tips on Peaks Island be licensed taxi drivers and carry insurance like any taxi operator.
Matt Rand gives a ride to Meikie Jenness on Peaks Island on Aug. 5. Rand said his golf cart is inspected and insured, as required for all golf carts that travel on city roads. But he doesn't have liability insurance for his passengers.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer
Matt Rand, a 19-year-old summer resident who has offered rides on his golf cart for the past two summers, said the vote means he will stop giving rides because he can't make enough money to pay for the insurance, which can cost $5,000 a year.
"It's very ridiculous," he said after the council's vote. "They can't accept that it's legal now and deal with the competition."
The Peaks Island Transportation System, a nonprofit group that spent $20,000 in city money last year to buy a van, asked for the change because Rand was taking away business.
Tom Bohan, treasurer of the system's board of directors, said passengers have climbed out of the taxi while waiting at the ferry landing, walked up the street and climbed on Rand's golf cart.
The taxi waits for passengers closer to the ferry. For safety reasons, Bohan said, the taxi isn't allowed to travel until the ferry departs.
The golf cart's operation during the lucrative summer months was making it harder for the taxi service to survive as a year-round concern, Bohan said.
He said the measure passed by the council Monday will level the playing field between the golf cart and the Peaks Island Transportation System, which hires licensed livery drivers.
The system's van is inspected annually to meet state safety standards for taxis. Also, the service has liability insurance to cover passengers. The insurance cost $5,000 during the taxi's first year of service and $3,000 for its second year.
"This has been a great burden on our service in doing business," Bohan told the council.
Rand said his golf cart is inspected and insured, as required for all golf carts that travel on city roads. But he doesn't have liability insurance for his passengers.
Because he doesn't ask for money for rides, he wouldn't be held liable if a passenger were injured, he said.
But city attorney Gary Wood said Rand could be found liable, if he has regularly gotten tips for rides and operated the service as a business.
Peaks Island is 2 miles long and 1 mile wide at its widest point. The speed limit on island roads is 20 mph.
The Peaks Island Transportation System has had difficulty making enough money to support a full-time driver. Two drivers have quit since the service started last summer.
The service began with a $5 minimum fare, but it later adopted a pay-what-you-want approach because people complained that it was too expensive. Several volunteers now take turns driving the cab, keeping a portion of the revenue.
Speaking to the council before the vote, Rand said there are two taxi services on the island, one that's private and one that's supported by the government. He said the measure, which amended the city's definition of a taxi fare to include tips, was aimed at putting the government's competitor out of business.
"I don't think the government changing laws to create a monopoly is a good road to go down," he said
Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who sponsored the measure, said the island taxi service received city funds but it is being operated by a nonprofit.
"There is no monopoly. The market is open," he said. "This is about fairness and public safety."
Councilors Dan Skolnik, John Coyne and Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. voted against the measure. Councilors Donoghue, John Anton, Cheryl Leeman, David Marshall and Dory Waxman voted in favor.
Because the measure won't take effect for 30 days, Rand said he will continue to operate the golf cart for the next week and half, before he heads back to college. He's a sophomore at Tufts University.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: email@example.com