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Downtown Tampa has e-scooters, bikes and streetcars. Ready for golf carts?

A golf cart rental business just opened near fast-developing Water Street Tampa. Will it change transportation in the city?
Arielle McCarthy of Dunedin talks to her daughter, Gianna Ohler, 7, at a stoplight in a golf cart rented recently from the new Channelside Golf Cart Rentals in downtown Tampa. "We had a blast," McCarthy said.
Arielle McCarthy of Dunedin talks to her daughter, Gianna Ohler, 7, at a stoplight in a golf cart rented recently from the new Channelside Golf Cart Rentals in downtown Tampa. "We had a blast," McCarthy said. [ LAUREN WITTE | Times ]
Published Aug. 2|Updated Aug. 2

TAMPA — These days there are lots of ways to get around downtown Tampa: walk the Riverwalk, zip around on bikes and e-scooters, ride the water taxi, catch a free streetcar or drive an old-school automobile.

So is the city’s center ready for golf carts?

Already a mainstay in neighborhoods from Sun City Center to Davis Islands — where locals can spot professional athlete residents tooling around in them — Channelside Golf Cart Rentals opened recently at the edge of downtown’s fast-developing Water Street Tampa district.

The rental enterprise is owned by Ethan Luster, who also has golf cart businesses in Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach, Indian Rocks Beach and Dunedin. Luster lives on nearby Harbour Island, where — yes — he has a golf cart.

The modest fleet of eight 4-passenger gas-powered carts, rented from the parking garage at 369 S 12th St. across from the Florida Aquarium, are street legal with the required lights, turn signals and other equipment. They can be driven on roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or lower.

“You could take it to Armature Works,” said Luster, 26. “You could take it all the way to Hyde Park.”

The reaction, particularly from those who support alternatives to car traffic, was predictably enthusiastic.

Kimberlee Curtis, chairperson of the Channel District Community Redevelopment Area, said she noticed golf carts on neighborhood streets lately but assumed they were privately owned.

“I’m in favor of these,” she said. “As long as they’re not on bike paths and the Riverwalk and sidewalks, it’s a nice alternative.”

Ashly Anderson, spokesperson for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, concurred: “We’re team any kind of micro-mobility options that get cars off the roads,” she said.

“I personally would support as many different modes of mobility as we can come up with,” said Karen Kress, director of transportation and planning for the partnership, a nonprofit that manages the downtown district through an agreement with the city.

Some alternative ways of getting around downtown seen in recent years: Rental bike shares, e-scooters, tours on two-wheeled, motorized, stand-up Segways, the Pirate Water Taxi and other vessels on the Hillsborough River, and periodically, a rickshaw-style pedicab that pops up between downtown and Ybor City. There’s also a two-hour guided tour of the city via golf cart.

The Pirate Water Taxi cruises the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa.
The Pirate Water Taxi cruises the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

“This is all about just having another option to get around Tampa,” said Brandie Miklus, the city’s infrastructure and mobility program coordinator. “Just making it a safer, more enjoyable place to get around.”

No one has to sell Tampa resident Abbey Ahern, a commercial real estate broker, on golf carts: She drives her own electric version from her neighborhood just north of downtown to work, dinner and her sons’ baseball practices on Davis Islands south of downtown.

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“I only drive my car once or twice a week now,” she said.

A Segway tour along the Tampa Riverwalk.
A Segway tour along the Tampa Riverwalk. [ CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times ]

The new downtown rental business requires drivers to be at least 25 years old with a valid license. Cart rentals are $35 for one hour and $25 an hour for two or more hours. It’s $225 for a full day.

Luster says so far it’s been a bit slow in the summer months, but he expects it will pick up as word gets out.

“We’ve had some rentals, just not a crazy amount,” he said. “We’d like more.”

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