The Kid With the Golf Cart: Matt Rand vs. City of Portland

1 Comment
Matt Rand and his Peaks Island Golf Cart Taxi - Portland, Maine
Matt with his Golf Cart "Taxi"

This morning Matt Rand faced off against City Hall – at City Hall. At a well-attended presser hosted by MHPC’s Center for Constitutional Government, Matt asked the City to reconsider its recent amendment to the Transportation Code that would put him out of business.

As you will recall from Sam Adolphsen’s prior post, Matt came up with an idea to provide a low-cost transportation service to residents and visitors on Peaks Island, a small island in Portland harbor. Over the last two summers, Matt has used the family’s battery-operated golf cart to provide rides to people coming across from the mainland on the ferry. He doesn’t charge a fare but instead relies on tips – which his passengers are free to give him as they choose. Peaks Island is 2 miles long by 1 mile wide with a maximum island speed limit of 20 MPH.

While we all hope that the City will reconsider its position, we are fully prepared to file suit to protect Matt’s rights. The suit would be based on the violation of Matt’s Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process right to pursue an occupation or earn a livelihood free of unreasonable government interference. Maine’s constitution also contains similar due process provisions.

As the facts show, the City Council acted not in the interest of public safety but to eliminate a competitor to a City-subsidized business.

Here is a timeline of events in this sorry tale:

April 2008. In order to earn money over the summer, 17 year-old Matthew Rand formulates an idea to offer a low-cost summer transportation service on Peaks Island, where his family summers. Matt’s mother queries Michael Langella, the Peaks Island liason, as to the possibility of setting up such a service. After some email correspondence and after Langella consults with the Peaks Island Council and the City of Portland, Langella offers his blessing to the proposal, suggesting that Matt not call his service a “taxi” so as to avoid “a lot of aggravation” with regulatory compliance.

Summer 2008. While Matt is unable to offer his service during summer 2008, he plans to do so the following year.

June 2009. Matt begins offering his service using a battery operated golf cart with a backward-facing jump seat and footrest. Attached to the roof of his cart is a sign offering a free ride. The ride is indeed free but Matt accepts tips after the ride is completed and the passengers disembarked. He parks at the very top of the ferry landing awaiting riders.

July 2009. Unbeknownst to Matt, Island Transportation System – a startup non-profit corporation – has received a $20,000 subsidy from the City of Portland to purchase a minivan and begin offering regular taxi service. ITS begins its own service two weeks after Matt begins his, parking its van closer to the ferry on the landing ramp. According to news accounts, ITS initially charges a $5.00 per person fare for its service after requesting – and receiving – from the City permission to charge a fare higher than the $1.50 island maximum. Jay Desmond is hired as the taxi’s first driver.

Summer 2009. While there is some friction between Matt and the ITS service, Matt continues to operate his cart without interruption. He is instructed by island police, however, that he must remove the sign from his cart.

Winter 2009. Jay Desmond quits during the winter. Passengers complain that the $5.00 fare is too high for a service rendered on an island 2 miles long by 1 mile wide.

May 2010. Matt resumes operations on Memorial Day weekend. After complaints by ITS, Officer Randy Richardson of the Portland Police presents Matt with a citation for operating an illegal taxi service. Upon advice of counsel, the City later drops the complaint. Meanwhile, Jay Desmond’s replacement driver quits. ITS drops its fare altogether in favor of donations and recruits volunteer drivers.

Summer 2010. After complaints to the City both by ITS and the Peaks Island Council, Portland City Councilor Kevin Donoghue proposes an amendment to the City’s definition of “taxi service” to include anyone who is paid anything for a trip in which the passenger determines the destination and route.

August 16, 2010. The Portland City Council votes 5-3 to approve Councilor Donoghue’s proposed amendment. It does so after testimony both by Matt and Thomas Bohan, ITS’ treasurer. Bohan claims that Matt is “unfairly competing” with the City-subsidized service. Matt charges that the City is attempting to protect its preferred – and subidized – provider by creating a monopoly. According to news reports, Councilor Donoghue responds that “there is no monopoly” and that “the market is open”. According to Donoghue, ordinance change is “about fairness and safety”.

Ironically, the August 16 meeting agenda reveals the City’s anti-competitive intent, stating that:

This ordinance amendment addresses a situation on Peaks Island in which an individual is operating a golf cart for compensation in direct competition with and to the detriment of the Peaks Island Transportation Service, which has to comply with all city ordinances related to vehicles for hire. The owner and operator of the golf cart business have not applied for or received the required city licenses to operate a vehicle for hire on Peaks Island.

Compounding the irony, Thomas Bohan first argues before the Council that the City should drop its insurance requirement for the ITS service – arguing in effect that the City should permit ITS to adopt Matt’s business model.

August 24, 2010. Matt retains MHPC’s Center for Constitutional Government to represent him in his dispute with the City. It is Matt’s intention to resume his service on Peaks Island during Summer 2011.