Portland City Council to consider tour company regulations

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

PORTLAND — Proposed city regulation of tour bus companies is being welcomed by two company owners.

“We are actually in favor of it,” Jennifer Atkinson of Blue Lobster Tours said Nov. 12 of the proposed City Code amendments governing vehicles for hire.

The amendments have not been presented to the full City Council, but were unanimously recommended for passage by the council Public Safety, Health & Human Services Committee, chaired by Councilor Ed Suslovic.

“I don’t expect there will be a whole lot of push back. I think most people acknowledge there are issues,” Suslovic said Nov. 11.

The ordinance requires “any individual, group, or entity that provides tours for profit to the public of any portion of the City of Portland,” to pay a $300 annual license fee and $30 per vehicle annually.

The ordinance would also require companies to submit more detailed records about employees and insurance to the city, and to display identification plates on vehicles and badges on drivers.

Adam Lee, associate city corporation counsel, said Tuesday the intent is to regulate companies providing guided tours in the city using a variety of vehicles. The rules could affect as many as 20 companies; he estimated there are five or six major providers in the city.

The ordinance also sets some rules about soliciting customers, although a provision that would have banned solicitation by competing companies within 10 feet of the fixed location of a tour company was not included.

“It is a more efficient, manageable way to permit the solicitation,” Lee said.

Bill Frappier III, who operates Portland Discovery Land & Sea Tours with his wife, Kathy, also supports more regulation, he said Monday.

“It is something we have been asking for a while, actually,” he said. “From a safety standpoint, it legitimizes us.”

Frappier oversees the company’s water tours, which are regulated by federal and U.S. Coast Guard rules, while Kathy manages land tours using six trolleys.

Atkinson and Frappier said the competition is growing, but opportunities are there for all the companies.

“When we started 20 years ago, it was hard to give away a tour,” Frappier said.

The expansion of cruise ship landings in the city provides plenty of customers, Atkinson said, because the larger motor coaches often sell out.

“Most of our money comes from ships,” she said. “They sell out and we sell out.”

Atkinson and her husband, Khaled Habash, said their experience in Juneau, Alaska, show how some regulation will benefit all, especially customers.

“The city is going through some growing pains and they don’t know how to deal with it,” she said of Portland.

Suslovic’s outlook is also customer-oriented, he said.

“It is pretty basic, we are setting some minimum standards so we are not harming the Portland brands,” he said.

Suslovic had hoped for a first reading of the ordinance at Monday’s City Council meeting. The earliest it can be taken as a first reading is now Dec. 21, because the Dec. 7 meeting will inaugurate new Mayor Ethan Strimling and incoming Councilors Belinda Ray and Spencer Thibodeau. 

The ordinance will be subject to a public hearing before a second reading and council vote.

A Portland Discovery Tour trolley approaches Exchange and Fore streets this summer. Company co-owner Bill Frappier III said Monday he supports more city regulation of tour companies.

Jennifer Atkinson, who operates Blue Lobster Tours in Portland with her husband, said she supports some regulation of tour companies in the city.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.