When city leaders in Pascagoula and Ocean Springs adopted their respective ordinances to allow the use of street-legal golf carts in their downtown areas, it's unlikely they could have anticipated how successful that move would be.
City officials, police chiefs and business owners alike are extremely pleased with how well the use of golf carts on city streets has gone. While Pascagoula does not require a city-issued permit for use of golf carts, Ocean Springs does and in less than four months has already issued 163 permits.
The owner of Permit No. 1 is Ocean Springs alderman at-large Bobby Cox, who said the move to allow golf carts on city streets started a few years ago, but only more recently was it embraced by other city officials.
"This is something I brought up several years ago, but we didn't have the support of the police chief, who had looked into it, and we didn't come up with the right way to make it work," Cox said. "With this new administration, we had the support of all the aldermen and pushed it through. I was really excited about it.
"I think it's going really well," Cox continued. "There are a few people who will try and stretch the limits. They're not supposed to be operating them further east than Bechtel (Blvd.) and once in a while I'll see someone out past that. Other than that, I think it's gone really well."
Ocean Springs police chief Mark Dunston agreed. He said his officers have issued very few citations to golf cart operators.
"It's been going very well," Dunston said. "Most of our contact with golf cart owners has been to remind them they have to register with the City and ensuring everyone is wearing their safety belts."
Several of those who spoke with The Mississippi Press noted there were initial concerns about underage, unlicensed drivers getting behind the wheel of golf carts and driving on public streets, but even those instance have been minimal.
"That was my concern at the start — kids jumping on them and driving, but I haven't seen a lot of that," Cox said, a point Dunston confirmed, saying officers have only seen a few instances of that on neighborhood streets, not the downtown area.
Pascagoula police chief Kenny Johnson said much the same thing.
"We have had parents occasionally letting underage kids operate the cart," Johnson said, "but that's not been a tremendous problem. But as far as adults and the golf carts, we've had no accident, no injuries. It's overall going well. Just today I saw three down on the beach and if you drive through the south part of town there's one in just about every car port and driveway.
"Folks are embracing it and so far, so good."
Frank Corder, Pascagoula's assistant city manager, noted the ordinance, passed in 2017, requires golf carts to stay off of major arteries and be confined to side streets, neighborhood streets and the beach, primarily.
Corder noted the advent of golf cart use on public streets has been good for business.
"Since it was passed, we've seen a large uptick in both usage of golf carts and sales of golf carts," he said. "We've actually had a dealer here in town who now sells those as part of his business.
"It's increased the economy as far as sales, but the major thing about golf carts is when you have major infrastructure problems in your city and have all the heavy trucks and things and you're able to lessen that burden with these smaller vehicles, it does help. It eases congestion and helps ease our infrastructure woes."
Dunston asked that golf cart owners be reminded that, with Ocean Springs heading into "festival season" with October's "Cruisin' the Coast" and November's Peter Anderson Festival, carts are not allowed into areas which have been barricaded, just as cars and trucks are not.
For his part, Ocean Springs Mayor Shea Dobson views the golf carts as a welcome amenity to the downtown area.
"It's a nice thing for the residents," he said. "It allows people to leave their cars at home. It's convenient. I don't have to tell any Ocean Springs resident that parking is at a premium downtown. The golf carts make it easier to get around and find parking.
"I'm seeing more and more of them, including on my street. Once we get parking under control with the new parking garage, coupled with all the folks using golf carts, we should be in good shape."
Just as Corder noted Pascagoula's ordinance resulted in a golf cart sales business in town, so, too, did the Ocean Springs ordinance passed in May bring a new business to town.
Downtown Cart Rentals opened late last month and their rental carts have already been spotted all over the downtown area.
"It's been pretty good. Everyone's had really positive feedback," said Erin Valencia, who opened the Government Street business with partner Kyle Jermyn. "We were actually sold out (Labor Day) weekend, all three days. We haven't really done much advertisement yet, so we've been really pleased with business so far."
Valencia said she and Jermyn frequently travel and in many places have found golf carts, scooters, buggys and the like available to rent.
"When we realized they had passed an ordinance in Ocean Springs, it just seemed like a no-brainer to bring it to the downtown area, where there's a lot of offer, a lot to see. We want our business to bring more overall business to the community by offering a mode of transportation that's convenient."
Valencia said they currently have a fleet of about a dozen carts of various sizes. Prices range from $30 for an hour in a standard cart up to a high of $300 for 24 hours in a six-seat, upgraded cart. For more information or to book a rental, visit www.downtowncartrentals.com or call 228-300-2278.
As for the aforementioned golf cart carrying Permit No. 1, Cox said he and his family have gotten more use out of it than he even imagined when he purchased it.
"We as a family have really enjoyed it," Cox said, adding that it's about a two-mile drive from his home to the downtown area. "It's slowed down here a bit lately, because the kids have gone back to college. But over the summer, they'd have it during the day and then, after work, they'd come back and (wife) Lori and I would jump on and we'd go.
"We've been really pleased with it and in talking to other folks who either already owned golf carts or have bought one since we passed the ordinance, they're all really happy with it, too."