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Letter to the Editor: Golf Cart Wars on Clearwater Beach

A Clearwater Patch reader shares his experiences trying to operate a low-speed, charter vehicle service on Clearwater Beach.

I am writing this letter to give you another perspective on the Golf Cart wars going on in Clearwater Beach.

My name is John Starick. I drove the first golf cart on the beach in 2010. It was a free beach shuttle. It was fun. The people that rode it, got to see the beach and get to their destination safely.

In that time that I was doing this service, I got to meet a lot of the staff that work at almost all the restaurants, charter services, bars and so on. That Fall my father became sick up in Michigan. I went up to help him recover. When I came back down in December 2011, Florida Free Ride was only a few months old.

Florida Free Ride and the Jolley Trolley were having their war. I just sat back and watched. The cart that I was driving was getting old and out dated. I found this new style golf cart. Kudo Bus. Solar powered.

Captain John's Beach bus, I called it. I came out with this new solar powered bus, 11 passengers in February 2012. It was a big hit. The friends I had met driving the old shuttle, all started calling me again. I upset Florida Free Ride to the point that they would go down to the City Hall and slander me. Told the guest that rode on their carts that I was an illegal cart. Told people that I had no insurance and so on.

I met with Jason (Florida Free Ride) and confronted him about this. He said, and I quote, "I am going to put all the carts out of business." That he was going to have a monopoly here on the beach.

They're a young group of kids trying to make a living. No clue of how to run a business with any ethics. Push people around. Soliciting at the Jolley Trolley stops. Slander the other carts. With no shame. Run to the city everyday. Always driving and texting and thinking that no one notices. If the other charter services,  restaurants, and attractions acted like the kids from Florida Free Ride, it would be a sad place for the tourist to visit.

I would pass out flyers for the services that were offered on the beach. Tell the tourist things about the beach. I even had the Jolley Trolley schedule on my bus. I would go into the Jolley Trolley office and say hi and pick up the schedule and route maps. Robert Longnecker stopped by my place when I was working on the bus in my driveway. That's how I met him. We talked a little about the bus I had. He told me about his plans with the new service the Jolley Trolley was coming out with in the summer of October 2012. We also talked about the service that Florida Free Ride was offering. Nothing free about Free ride. 

Now on June 18, 2012 I received a certified letter from the City of Clearwater, FL to cease operations immediately as Capt. John's Beach Bus. Yes that's right. Stop running the bus.

It was pointed out to the city that the Kudo bus was too big (thanks Florida Free Ride). The weight was over 3,000 pounds loaded. The bus weight empty was 1,980 pounds. So when you add the 11 seats, it put me over the gross limit.

I had a meeting with Michael Delk (Planning and Development director), and Terry Tuenis (code enforcement) the out come was that I could not run the bus. I told Mr. Delk that I would remove the back seat. He told me he didn't care if I took all the seats off. That class vehicle would not be running on the city streets. The city was not in the business of counting seats. So no more Capt. John's Beach Bus. In July I started a petition. Nothing came of it.

Now look at what is on the beach. Jolley Trolley Has three just like mine. Same make Kudo bus. The Jolley Trolley buses are eight passenger, but where they purchased them they only put six seat belts in and removed the backseat and calls it a six passenger. They put a GVWR of 2,990 Lbs plate on it and in the city eyes that's OK, but they would not let me do the same thing. Can't fight City Hall. I have copies of all the paper work if you would like to see them. I could go on about this. Terry Tuenis even told me to play nice. What? Really?

Sincerely,

Capt. John Starick

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Opinionated...sometimes January 17, 2013 at 03:42 PM
TYPICAL!!! this area is so difficult to live/do business in anymore. The officials are not fair in their decisions and to whom they allow to do business. I don't go to Clearwater Beach, haven't in years. Feels like it should be in New York City not Florida. It does not give a welcoming feeling. So sorry you ran into all the "red tape" and lost. I just feel that the City doesn't go by the book, but wait maybe they do, its just "Their" book, the one with the hidden rules.......
Joe January 17, 2013 at 04:17 PM
Take your vehicle back to the manufacturer, have the rear seat removed and put in 6 seat belts and have them re-tag it the same exact tag as your competitor. Shouldn't be a problem. Then go back to city hall with all of the new info and tell them your vehicle now meets THEIR recommendations. Always ask what their recommendations are and follow them and get it in writing for future use.
KC January 17, 2013 at 11:46 PM
This is why people don't want to start a business in City of Clearwater, it seems as if the city intends to make things more complicated and red tape then they need be.... I would also think you could sue the City for putting your bus out of business then approving 3 others nearly identical. Finally I agree those "free ride" guys are rude to tourists if they don't get what they think is a good tip. I over heard one telling a touron - "I hope you tip your waitstaff" as he was dropping them off at Frenchys in the Frenchy Grouper Cart... Mike Preston heard that he would yank that Grouper and his name right off that cart. Some people don't know.... probably thought it was a free service by Frenchy's - that is what I would think if I didn't know better.
Carolyn Parsons January 18, 2013 at 03:26 AM
It seems to me that the City of Clearwater officials make up the rules as they go. There was no reason for them to cease the operations of Captain John's Beach Bus. It really ticks me off knowing that the Jolly Trolley now has three of the same buses on the streets and the city allowed it. I am curious as to what the City officials have to say now what their reasoning was to shutting down Captain John's Beach Bus. I think John should take it to court. The weight limit of the vehicle is the weight; regardless of how many seats are on it and how many seat belts it has.
Lee Obercotter January 19, 2013 at 11:03 PM
I like the idea of simply reconfiguring your bus to meet the city code. We also hear many complaints about the "you name your fare, but it better be good" free rides. Our store does not recommend them...and never will.

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