The city moved to tighten the reins on golf carts on Peaks Island this week, requiring rented carts to be all-electric by the summer of 2021.
The Portland City Council agreed Monday to a new set of regulations on the rented carts, with the all-electric requirement intended to cut down on the noise and emissions from gas-powered carts that summer visitors use to cruise around the city’s busiest island.
One Peaks resident told the council the noise was akin to “riding lawnmowers going by your house … about every other minute.” Golf cart rentals have been a source of tension for years on some Casco Bay islands, and a recent survey of Peaks islanders found that most respondents wanted to ban the carts altogether.
The council adopted the measure by a 7-0 vote, but it won’t have an immediate impact. The new set of rules, including a mandate that rental carts be marked with the renting company’s name, won’t take effect until next May and the all-electric requirement doesn’t kick in until 2021 so the rental companies have time to convert their fleets.
Several residents said the carts are just a symptom of tourism run amok on Peaks, a problem they fear will get worse when Casco Bay Lines puts a new, larger ferry into service in 2021. Although some islanders told the council this week they would like to see the rental carts banned on Peaks, others said the restrictions are a reasonable first step to address complaints about the noise, exhaust and worries about safety.
Steve Clayman told the council that he bought his home on Peaks 11 years ago when it was a quiet neighborhood.
“Since that time, without exaggeration, it has turned into on some days, or most days, during the summer, what feels like a carnival ride where there’s golf carts going by,” he said. “Imagine riding lawnmowers going by your house, through your neighborhood … about every other minute down the street. Imagine trying to take a walk and enjoying the reason you live on Peaks Island and this constant roar of golf carts going by.”
And, because they are rented for short periods of time, he said, “they’re continuously cycling the island.”
Anne Belden, who lives on the island part-time, said the golf cart rules will help the island neighborhood cope with a steady increase in day-trippers.
“The golf cart has become an issue that is representative of so much more, which is how are we going to manage the incredible growth of tourism on the island?” she said.
The 1.2-square-mile island is a quiet neighborhood of fewer than 1,000 residents in the offseason, but becomes a bustling tourist destination when the ferry fills up each summer day for the 15-minute boat ride from mainland Portland.
Two companies rent carts on the island and have a combined fleet of 44. Mike’s Carts charges $30 an hour with a minimum rental of two hours and operates between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Peaks Island Golf Carts charges $35 an hour with a one-hour minimum and is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The council’s rules are aimed only at rented carts and don’t affect carts owned by individuals on the island. Some homes that are rented come with a golf cart to allow the renters to get around the island and some year-round residents also have cars or carts.
Mike Sylvester, the owner of Mike’ Carts and also a Democratic state legislator, said he doesn’t object to the new rules and was moving toward an all-electric fleet, although the council’s new rules will require him to accelerate his timeline.
“We feel the options are golf carts or cars and if you’ve seen the cars running around the island, there aren’t many low-emissions or hybrids,” he said. “Ninety percent of it (the regulations), we already do. We’ll figure it all out and we’ll make it work.”
Natasha Markov, the owner of Peaks Island Golf Carts, did not speak at the council meeting or respond to a message seeking an interview this week. However, Markov said in June that she appreciated the need for the changes and would begin transitioning her fleet of 20 carts from gas to electric, The Forecaster reported.
Sylvester told the councilors that he tries to work with residents to minimize the impact of the cart rentals.
He also talks to those who rent the carts, Sylvester said, to let them know about proper cart etiquette on Peaks Island.
“We literally say don’t cut across people’s yards, no laughing and whooping, no alcohol” and advises those who rent a cart to pull over for cars on the road.
“We say they should to drive through people’s neighborhoods like you’d like them driving through your neighborhood,” Sylvester said. “Our neighbors have been great and we tell them if you see something, call us. We’ll pull the cart right back in if they re doing something they shouldn’t.”
Spencer Thibodeau, who heads the council panel that drafted the regulations, said the goal isn’t to put the cart rental companies out of business and that idea wasn’t entertained on his Sustainability and Transportation Committee.
“We’re not trying to shut these people down,” he said. “We wanted to address the big issue (the islanders) have, which was the quality of life.”
Thibodeau said the requirement that the carts’ ownership be identifiable would allow islanders to report problems, such as carts that are overloaded or driven in an unsafe manner. The new rules also require an annual inspection, he said, adding that further steps would need to be a reaction to a specific problem.
“I’m willing and open to considering additional steps, but I want to make sure our steps are data-driven,” Thibodeau said.
He also said the regulations give the city manager the authority to reduce the number of rental carts allowed if a problem develops.