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Low-speed vehicles in downtown Tampa are just a City Council vote away from happening

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Back in 2008, people in Tampa could hop little six-seat electronic carts to travel between downtown, Ybor City, Channelside and SoHo to get around the city.

They were popular, accessible and free – and were promptly shut down by the Hillsborough County Public Transportation in 2009. The agency concluded that the cars were the equivalent to unlicensed taxicabs and nixed them.

Citizens complained that the move was done to protect the cab companies.

However, those Low Speed Vehicles (LSV) look poised to return back to the city, thanks the work of the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

The vehicles would be limited to six passenger seats and could go no faster than 35 miles per hour.

On Wednesday, PTC outgoing chair Kyle Cockream said that because the Partnership would be funding 100 percent of the program, it would not come under the agency’s purview. However, that would change if the vehicle company began accepting compensation.

The Partnership’s Karen Kress has been working over the past year to gather up public and private financing to subsidize the program initially. “I won’t be able to keep up this fundriaisng effort, so the Partnership can back out and the private sector company comes in under this new set of rules that hopefully will be crafted,” she after the PTC’s meeting on Wednesday.

Kress, director of transportation and planning with the Partnership, says her organization will put a request of proposal for private entities to be the vendor to run the cars, if the Tampa City Council approves a funding request on Thursday.”We’re talking about launching with 10 or 12 vehicles,” she says.

The PTC has been working on a proposal of rule changes to make the LSV’s viable in Tampa. They would include Level II background checks for drivers (a dividing point currently between the PTC and the ridesharing companies, mechanical inspections prior to service and then annually, a $150 charge for a permit and an initial application fee of $1,000, with a $300 renewal fee.

Tampa House Republican Dana Young included a provision in a local bill regulating the ridesharing companies that would allow for similar low-speed vehicle circulators to operate in Tampa’s downtown area. That measure was voted down at the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation meeting last December, but a version of it did pass in one House Committee this session. There was no Senate companion bill, however.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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