DOWNTOWN — If you spot a golf cart riding around downtown, no worries. It's not a lost golfer trying to find his way back to Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club.
Hop Tampa, a company started by Harbor Island resident Todd Persico, is becoming a solution for downtown dwellers and visitors tired of walking long distances to reach their destinations.
The company's six-seater electronic carts, also known as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, or NEVs, ride throughout downtown, the Channel District and Harbor Island looking for pedestrians in need of a lift to the St. Pete Times Forum, a restaurant or an entertainment venue.
"I think Tampa is a very walkable city, but I find that people don't really want to walk," Persico said. "They'd rather ride."
Persico rides around in the vehicles during big events such as concerts and sports games. He also runs them on weekends for locals who are out enjoying some entertainment.
One steady customer base has been patrons heading to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Persico says they often call on him to travel from places like the hotels near Harbor Island to the center.
Paul Bilyeu, public relations director at the performing arts center, said that he occasionally sees the vehicles dropping people off for performances.
Persico has two vehicles and wants to increase his fleet.
"I'm hoping by Super Bowl next year, when it's in Tampa, to have about eight of these vehicles running," he said.
Persico said he paid $17,000 for his NEVs. According to Global Electric Motorcars, which makes the NEVs that he uses, the carts range in cost from about $13,000 to $17,000. They can go up to 25 mph and will run 40 miles before they need to be recharged.
Persico is not allowed to charge a fare because his vehicles are not registered as taxicabs. He says that riders usually give him tips.
He makes more money by using the carts as ad canvases for local businesses. On his Web site, www.hoptampa.net, he gives potential advertisers the option of having their business advertised on several locations, including an illuminated sign that sits on the roof of the vehicle or the rear or front fenders.