The city’s Liquor License Review Committee met Friday at City Hall to discuss, among other items of business, the legality of Trolley Pub Ann Arbor, the pedal-powered vehicle that began running city tours in September.
Trolley Pub’s business model encourages customers to bring their own drinks, but also makes intermittent stops at bars and popular destinations downtown. Trolley Pub’s current operations are completely legal, following a law signed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) in July that permits consumption of beer and wine by individuals on pedal pubs. The city could, however, pass an ordinance to make the practice illegal.
The meeting marked the first formal introduction of Trolley Pub’s managing partner, Amanda Swan, to the committee. Swan, a 26-year-old Detroit resident, has already been in regular contact with the Ann Arbor Police Department to establish a positive working relationship.
“I’d like to take responsibility to initiate contact and be on good terms with the city,” she said during the meeting.
As a driver present on all tours, Swan helps steer and direct the 14-person bike, and monitors drinking passengers. Patrons must sign waivers in advance, are carded upon boarding and are not allowed to bring any hard liquor or glass bottles on board.
The committee, composed of three voting members, weighed two main options: regulating drinks or an outright ban on serving alcohol. City Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1) expressed concern about allowing Trolley Pub to continue operation unchecked.
“This is a real serious issue for me, people drinking and on the streets,” Kailasapathy said. “Our police force is already so stretched. I don’t give lip service to the people who protect us.”
AAPD Lieutenant Renee Bush acknowledged the potential difficulty in dealing with unruly passengers on the streets, as Trolley Pub has the authority to remove riders at the driver’s discretion. Because the company is the first of its kind in Ann Arbor, Bush and Swan have had to work closely together to analyze pedestrian patterns and traffic.
“(Swan) has been very amenable to my suggestions, and I appreciate (her) willingness to reach out,” Bush said. “These are uncharted waters we are on.”
Trolley Pub operates in five other cities across the country, including campus towns such as Madison, Wis., and Raleigh, N.C. In drafting an ordinance, the committee will not only look to other cities’ policies, but also consider the opinions of major stakeholders, such as business associations, city public services and safety administration, and the University.
Mary Fales, senior assistant city attorney, shared preliminary comments from some of the entities.
“The Main Street Association is generally favorable to regulation … and the University wasn’t particularly interested in having operation of commercial quadricycles on ‘University streets,’ ” Fales said.
Swan agreed it would be wise to avoid University traffic, especially on game days, and does not take the trolley into the vicinity of congested pedestrian areas such as near State Street or the Michigan Stadium. Even if the review committee votes to ban alcohol from the pedal pubs all together, Trolley Pub would still run tours.
“It’s not as profitable, but the model works without alcohol,” Swan said.
Committee Chair Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) stressed that it would take time to finalize an ordinance, as the next meeting is scheduled for sometime in November. In the meantime, Trolley Pub and the city will work together to map approved routes and institute safety practices.
“There’s so many unknowns and public safety for everyone is critical,” Lumm said. “We’re trying to do this thoughtfully and purposefully.”
Despite concerns, Swan said she is dedicated to promoting the service in the city.
“My personal goal is to integrate Trolley Pub into Ann Arbor,” Swan said. “I’m willing to work with whoever and whenever.”