Oct 5, 2021 - Politics

Transportainment regulations debate hits city council

People riding on Nashville Tractor up Broadway with drinks in their hands.

People riding on Nashville Tractor up Broadway. Photo by William DeShazer for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Party buses are the latest pressure point for Nashville as the city grapples with the side effects of its booming tourism industry.

  • The first bill to regulate party buses is on the council agenda today, but the lead sponsor said he may ask for a delay to allow for more discussion.

Why it matters: Nashville has routinely played catch-up on regulating tourism-fueled industries, a tough dynamic that can lead to volatile debates before decisions are made. Party buses are no different.

Driving the news: Metro Council member Freddie O'Connell, who represents downtown, filed sweeping legislation written in collaboration with the Nashville Convention and Tourism Corp. The legislation has 28 co-sponsors.

  • O'Connell's ordinance would give the city's Transportation Licensing Commission a say on who can operate party buses, which roads they can drive down and hours of operation.
  • It would temporarily ban passengers from bringing alcohol onto unenclosed party vehicles until the city can develop rules for BYOB permits for owners.
  • O'Connell's legislation would also restrict amplified sound from party buses, one of the most frequent complaints from downtown residents and businesses.

What they're saying: O'Connell told Axios party buses are presenting similar problems as scooters and short-term rentals before the city regulated them.

  • "Every time we've seen a disruptive industry, it's been the absolute lack of regulatory landscape that has allowed them to engage in what is really a race to the bottom," O'Connell said.

The other side: A coalition of party bus owners hired influential attorney and lobbyist Jamie Hollin, who told the Tennessean the city lacks the legal standing to enforce the safety regulations proposed by O'Connell's bill.

  • Michael Winters, who owns the Nashville Tractor and is president of the Nashville Transportainment Association, told Axios common sense rules such as permits, insurance and registration fees are acceptable to the bus owners.
  • "What Freddie and (CVC President and CEO Butch Spyridon) and some of the people have done is taken basic regulations that already exist, and then looked at how to add stuff that makes the businesses not regulated, but annihilated," Winters said.

The intrigue: Hanging over Metro's head is the possibility that any law it passes could be undone by the Republican-led state legislature.

  • Prominent Republican state Sen. Jack Johnson told Axios "transportainment and how it's regulated is a completely local issue."

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