Party Bus

Metro Council has voted to ban alcohol on party buses.

The party is over for Nashville’s transpotainment vehicles.

Last week the Metro Council voted 33-3 to ban possession and consumption of alcohol on all party vehicles beginning Dec. 1 and adopted sweeping regulations for the industry.

Council Member Freddie O’Connell, whose district includes Broadway and much of downtown Nashville, sponsored the bill, calling it “a first step” in the regulation of entertainment vehicles.

The alcohol ban is meant to be temporary as O’Connell said he’s planning to soon propose a bill to allow “bring your own” alcohol and mobile catering options for party vehicles. If it’s filed before the next Council meeting, the earliest it could be adopted is Dec. 7 — a week after the ban is effective.

Council Member At Large Bob Mendes agreed with most of the regulations, describing “constant noise” that can be heard at his office on the 12th floor of the Pinnacle building. But, he says, the regulations on alcohol could “kill the industry.”

“Alcohol sales being stopped fully is meant to be, frankly, a punch in the face to the industry to get their attention,” he said. “If we don’t … figure out a way to find an avenue to allow alcohol on these vehicles, then we’re really more killing an industry than we are regulating.”

Council Member Zach Young voted against the bill, even though he had signed on as a co-sponsor, along with 28 other members.

“I’m very disgusted by the (Convention and Visitors’ Corporation’s) attempt at ramrodding through legislation to essentially kill an industry,” Young said, adding he supports reasonable safety regulations.

“There are a lot of good actors that are ultimately going to get punished because of a few. I can’t be a party to such a disgraceful attempt — by a taxpayer-funded organization no less — to put folks out of business,” he said.

A coalition of party vehicle business owners had called for O’Connell to cut the restrictions on alcohol consumption, saying that banning open containers on vehicles that are “not fully enclosed” unfairly picks winners and losers in the industry.

O’Connell filed an amendment he described as “a good faith offer to absorb some industry concerns,” but due to objections from other council members, the amendment was not adopted.

If it’s signed by Mayor John Cooper, many of the regulations will go into effect in April 2022, after the Metro Transportation Licensing Commission completes its rulemaking process.

The bill gives the TLC authority to grant and deny permits for the vehicles, based on the number of vehicles already operating, and the character, experience and responsibility of the applicant. The TLC will also oversee vehicle routes, and ensure companies follow operating standards.

All party vehicle operators will be required to obtain an annual permit from the TLC. Drivers will be required to hold a valid Tennessee commercial driver’s license and will be required to undergo a fingerprint-based criminal background check. All drivers and staff will be required to attend an approved hospitality program, including information on safety requirements.

Music and other sounds played on vehicles must not be audible 50 or more feet from the vehicle. Party vehicle businesses will be required to hold permits for each vehicle, undergo periodic inspections of each vehicle, and hold a minimum of $5 million in public liability insurance per vehicle — an item included in an amendment O’Connell described as a “housekeeping” measure.

Passengers will be required to be seated on party vehicles, and drivers will be responsible for requiring passengers to remain seated except while loading or unloading.

“This is going to impact a small business industry, and I don’t take that lightly,” said Council Member Tom Cash, before voting for the bill. “But it has gotten out of control. It’s been bubbling up for years … something’s got to be done here, and there are some consequences to really taking hold of an issue.”

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