Visitors and residents of Auburn may soon have a new way to get around.
Local entrepreneur Mathan Holt approached members of the Auburn City Council with the idea of operating a golf-cart shuttle service on certain roads in town. He hopes to launch the service in time for football season, then expand the service to include downtown events as well as everyday use, if the community takes advantage of the service.
“My idea is to provide an alternative method for people to get to and from downtown and support our downtown businesses. And of course, on game day,” he addressed the council. “Sometimes, as we all get a little older, we don’t want to walk as far as we used to. Sometimes, it’s too far to walk, but too close for a taxi cab.”
A low-speed vehicle, such as a golf cart, would be ideal to use in this situation, he said.
Low-speed vehicle ordinance
The council on Wednesday night voted 8-1 in favor of approving an ordinance that would allow low-speed vehicles to operate legally as cabs on city streets, and set parameters for their operation. But the vote did not pass without much discussion from council members, several of whom mentioned they had received emails from their constituents raising questions.
“We know, if you’ve ever been on country roads, you’re going 55 miles per hour and you go over and hill and there’s a tractor, slow vehicles are as much of a hazard as fast-moving vehicles,” said Ward 5 councilwoman Lynda Tremaine, who cast the only dissenting vote. “I just think we’ve got to be real careful. I’m sure Mathan’s safe when he’s driving a golf cart, but not everybody is attuned. And there’s a lot of traffic, which goes back to game days. I’d hate for us to make a decision and then later on say, ‘Boy, that was a mistake.”’
The ordinance was modeled after one in Tuscaloosa that allows street-legal, low-speed vehicles to operate on certain city streets. Golf carts, which run at average speeds of 25 mph, would not drive on roads where posted speed limits exceed 35 mph. Other cities, including Fairhope and Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn., have low-speed-vehicle shuttle services, Holt said.
“I applaud the effort,” Ward 2 councilman Ron Anders said. “Trying to fix the problem of parking downtown should be multifaceted, and the solution shouldn’t only be to build a parking deck. And I appreciate that what we’re trying to do is be creative and come up with some ways to get people in and out of downtown efficiently. My concern would be, is it safe?
“There’s a lot of impatient people who are going faster than our signs say, and now we’re going to put people in golf carts with not a lot of protection. And I’m just curious about these other cities. Has this been an unfortunate problem?”
Assistant City Manager Kevin Cowper said he had no information on accidents involving low-speed vehicles, but that the city could follow up with Tuscaloosa mayor Walter Maddox to ask if that city has had any problems.
“From a public safety standpoint, trust me, we went round and round with the police chief and other folks in developing this ordinance to get it to where it was something they felt we could live with,” Cowper said. “In the ordinance, there are very specific standards for these golf carts.”
The golf carts in question must be street-legal vehicles with an identification number, headlights, taillights, brake lights, windshields and seatbelts. Passengers must be seated, wearing their seatbelts and not consuming alcohol while on the carts.
The countdown to game day
On Friday, Holt stood in a hangar full of golf carts at University RV Resort, which he owns, and spoke about his next move.
“I still have several things to implement,” said Holt, who said he hopes to have the shuttle service running in time for the Tigers’ season opener against Georgia Southern on Sept. 2. “It’s my understanding that the streets on campus belong to the school, and not to the city. So now that the city has authorized me to drive on its streets, I need to meet with the school to see if I can drive there.”
At this time, Holt has not yet scheduled an interview with anyone at the university, so it is unknown whether Auburn will give him the green light to drop off people at Jordan-Hare Stadium or elsewhere on campus, or if the school will decide a private enterprise would interfere with its own game day shuttle service with Tiger Transit.
Holt said he would like to launch the shuttle service with between 12 and 20 golf carts during football season. From there, any possible growth would depend on use by members of the community.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, Ward 1 councilwoman Verlinda White asked Holt who would be driving the golf carts.
“In order for me to have drivers to operate these carts, they’ve got to come to the city and get a chauffeur’s driver’s license,” he said. “In order to get that driver’s license, we’ve got to have their motor vehicle report, which will tell if they’re a safe driver or if they’ve had any accidents or tickets. Then, the city would determine if they qualify for a driver’s license.”
Holt is currently looking for interested drivers, and said potential chauffeurs should contact him at (334) 329-7425.
“I want drivers who will drive safely, be courteous and promote not just the cart business, but the whole city,” he said.
Riders will have to pay for the transit service, but Holt said he has not yet determined a price. He also eventually would like to have an agreement with downtown merchants, allowing them to advertise on the carts.
A working name for the business at this time is Street Carts, because “you want your name to reflect what you do,” he said. He added that the name is not yet set in stone, however.
“My overall goal is to provide an alternate means of transportation to compliment the city and downtown area,” he said. “I live here, too. I want to do anything I can to help Auburn in the big picture.”