Justine Griffin/ Tampa Bay Times - Nazrine Beasley cruised down W. Empedrado Street in the Palma Ceia neighborhood on a recent sunny afternoon.
She had dropped off all the packages that once filled the empty trailer that bounced behind the golf cart she was driving. She was headed back toward Himes Street, where a POD storage container sat, still full of packages, so she could deliver more.
On the way, she stopped by to see Jayda, a friendly gray standard schnauzer that lives down the street.
Beasley pulled the golf cart over to the curb so the dog could jump in. Beasley gave her a good scratch before waving to her owner, Craig Johnson.
"I've known all the neighbors on this street for years," said Beasley, who has worked for the United Parcel Service for six years. "That's what I love about the golf cart. I get to meet different people and learn their routines. It makes the job easier."
Beasley is one of dozens of UPS workers who are delivering packages from the seats of golf carts around Tampa Bay. It's a strategy UPS implemented in warm weather communities to deliver packages quicker and cheaper during the holidays. The fleet of golf carts and PODs have been spotted in communities across the bay area.
"UPS uses golf carts for deliveries where it makes the most sense — typically in some fast-growth residential communities," said Jennifer Cook, a spokeswoman with UPS. "The environmental and economic benefits are obvious: reduced noise and fuel conservation and in many cases, earlier residential deliveries."
In the age of Amazon, drones and one-hour delivery, the move to use golf carts is a "pretty progressive" for UPS, says retail analyst Jeff Green.
"It's very smart. It's got to be more cost-effective and a way to deliver packages faster through a more targeted geography," Green said.
Online shopping is playing a bigger role than ever this holiday season. New data compiled by the consulting firm Slice Intelligence show that Amazon captured 38 percent of all holiday spending the week after the Thanksgiving/Black Friday shopping weekend. Compare that to big-box brands like Best Buy, which captured 2.6 percent of online revenue, or Walmart (2.8 percent) or Target (2.3 percent) during the first week of December. UPS is just one of a handful of players — along with FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service — which will deliver hundreds of thousands of packages before the end of the year.
UPS has tested some other innovative modes of delivery — like electronic bikes in some Portland, Ore., neighborhoods — but the golf carts have been in use for several years now. UPS applies for permits to use the golf carts in specific communities and gets written permission from all property owners where the PODS are temporarily placed, a spokeswoman said. Most of the delivery drivers are seasonal employees.
Johnson, who lives in Palma Ceia near south Tampa, says the service has been great. He said the golf carts come around every November and deliver packages through early January. UPS has delivered that way in his neighborhood for three years.
"It's more personal," Johnson said. "I know the delivery drivers better than I ever have."