Although the city council opted to not allow golf carts on Gulfport roads, the groups of businessmen who stood before them at the February 6 workshop wasn't asking permission. They didn't need to: they want to put low-speed vehicles (LSVs) into service as electric minicabs whose drivers work only for tips. LSVs, Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bob Newcomb told city council, aren't golf carts.
What the group did want was money.
With the Gulfport Area Chamber of Commerce and the Gulfport Merchants Association already committed to split the costs and maintenance of bringing LSV electric cabs – called the GetGo system by its originators – the investors approached the city to discuss the feasibility of a public/private partnership.
Why ask the city for money?
"We have a good problem, and that problem is parking downtown," Newcomb told city council. He added that he didn't consider it a chronic problem, but an acute one that recurs at every event.
"The biggest business downtown is you... or us," he said, referencing the Casino "so we have a common purpose. We think the solution is a low-speed vehicle."
The GetGo business incorporate as a nonprofit, with the GMA, Chamber, and the city – should it choose to contribute financially – all having seats on the board. The business would lease the LSVs to drivers with the understanding they would work certain shifts and not charge fares. Drivers would earn their income from tips alone. The business would maintain the LSVs as well as liability and property insurance and earn income from selling the seven ad spaces on each vehicle.
The Chamber and GMA want the city to commit to $10,000 - $11,000 annually.
"I don't think we're asking for a lot of new money," Newcomb said, pointing out the number of spots GetGo could free up by taking Gulfport's downtown employees to and from work, as well as the increased safety factor for locals who no longer had to worry about designating a driver.
Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke said he felt uncomfortable with government funding a venture that would compete with private enterprise.
"We're creating an enterprise that will compete with private business," he said "We're using tax dollars to create unfair competition."
"Nobody's looking for a profit," Newcomb responded "Our opinion is the taxi services – whom we have attempted to consult with – would be one of the major beneficiaries of this program."
Although council wouldn't commit to a number, it did direct the city manager to get more to discuss the idea further with those suggesting it.
"I think some version of this we could work out" Mayor Henderson said.