Transpotainment

A new era is coming for Nashville transpotainment after the Metro Council approved a bill earlier this month clearing the way for the phalanx of downtown party vehicles to be regulated by the Transportation Licensing Commission. The commission has until April to put most of the regulations into effect. Among them is a requirement that party vehicle operators be approved by the commission before hitting the streets.  

It will mean an end to the virtual free-for-all that led to Nashville’s current status quo. Pedal taverns, those slow-moving bars with wheels that are powered by pedaling-while-drinking tourists, have been pretty well regulated. But beyond that, basically anyone with a bad idea and access to a tractor, trailer or topless school bus has been free to ferry bachelorettes, bros and other vacationers around the downtown core. (It’s been a long time now since their motorized merriment was limited to Lower Broadway.)  

One part of the council bill that will go into effect soon is the ban on alcohol use on the party tractors, tubs and buses. That prohibition is set to be implemented in December unless the council passes more legislation. District 19’s Councilmember Freddie O’Connell, the lead sponsor of the bill that passed earlier this month, says he’s eager to bring another bill that would allow some beer sales or permit passengers to bring their own beer. But that legislation will have to move quickly, and the situation it presents — banning perhaps the key element of the transpotainment industry with a promise to unban before the ban goes into effect — was cause for some criticism even from co-sponsors of O’Connell’s bill.

“The alcohol sales being stopped fully is meant to be, frankly, a punch in the face to the industry to get their attention,” At-Large Councilmember Bob Mendes, whose law office is downtown, said to the council at its Oct. 19 meeting. “What I hope we see for round two is a more widespread conversation. At least for me personally — and remember, I listen to this all week, especially the end of the week once tourists come to town — but if we don’t come up promptly, all the parties who have hired all the lawyers and all the lobbyists, 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.”

As of this writing, O’Connell says he’s expecting to have the text of a new bill before the end of the month. 

Meanwhile, some members of the party fleet are already hitting legal speed bumps. Earlier this month, Metro officials sued in Davidson County Chancery Court trying to shut down the infamous Music City Party Tub, alleging that it has been operating illegally because it doesn’t have a public pool permit. More recently, WKRN reported that the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission issued a cease-and-desist letter to The Nashville Tractor, accusing its operators of selling alcohol without a permit. 

Industry representatives have also suggested they might take legal action over the council legislation.

“We support reasonable regulations, but we can’t get that,” attorney Jamie Hollin told the Scene ahead of the council’s Oct. 19 vote. Hollin represents the Nashville Transportation Association, a group of transpotainment operators. He singled out Butch Spyridon, the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp CEO who has started voicing concern recently about the atmosphere on Lower Broadway after spending years as the city’s loudest tourism booster.  

“Butch and his minions, including a front group with anonymous donors, are great puppeteers of our city’s legislative body,” Hollin says. “Guess we’ll have to see what survives judicial scrutiny, because they have the votes and have no interest in allowing business owners and their employees to have a voice in the process.”

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