Electric carts are a cheap, convenient way to get around downtown Tampa. But the service needs to be regulated to ensure the vehicles are safe and the drivers and operators are accountable for any accidents. Hillsborough County's Public Transportation Commission needs to move quickly to license the carts as they do other for-hire vehicles.
The PTC has no excuse for taking more than a year to regulate the carts. It initially sought to license the vehicles after cab companies complained. Then to deflect criticism that it was choosing sides, the PTC flip-flopped and washed its hands of the matter, claiming it lacked clear legal authority to regulate this new business. A Hillsborough judge dismissed that nonsense last month, clearing the way for the PTC to take up the issue on Wednesday.
Hillsborough is hardly reinventing the wheel. The city of St. Petersburg and dozens of other communities regulate for-hire electric carts. Most cities require that the carts be outfitted with seat belts, turn signals and other reasonable safety features. Motorized electric vehicles are also usually limited to roads where the speed limit does not exceed 35 mph. Drivers must comply with traffic and parking laws, and operators must be licensed and insured.
The vehicles are popular in downtown Tampa, where visitors and locals alike take them from downtown hotels to the convention center, St. Pete Times Forum and the Channelside shopping and entertainment complex. The carts serve a genuine need, as taxicabs often are not around or resist short-haul fares. But these operations need to be regulated. The carts need to be safe and clean, they need to driven responsibly and cart operators need to have the financial means to shoulder any damages to people and property.
The commission needs to impose a fair fee and licensing structure. If electric carts are limited to the downtown area, operators certainly should not have to pay the same licensing fees that are paid by taxicab companies that operate countywide. These vehicles serve a niche market and it should be reflected in the commission's regulatory framework.