Golden, Colo., residents could see the unwrapping of a new package delivery system right in the middle of this year’s holiday gift-giving frenzy, with UPS Inc. drivers swapping out their trademark brown trucks for golf carts with trailers.
The Golden City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to allow the golf carts on some residential streets at its regular meeting Dec. 7, and UPS could roll out a limited fleet in neighborhoods as soon as Dec. 8.
The company would be limited to using gas-powered golf carts on streets where the posted speed limit is no more than 25 mph. Drivers would not be allowed to exceed 20 mph, according to UPS’ agreement with the city.
The pilot program is set to end Dec. 31.
“For us, there’s an upside in not having all those trucks up and down our streets,” Golden City Manager Jason Slowinski said Dec. 6.
Mayor Marjorie Sloan said she’s excited about the city possibly being a “proving ground” for a novel delivery method in Colorado as more and more Americans shop online and wait for their orders to be delivered to their door. Retail analysts project that e-commerce sales nationwide will swell by 18% to 21% this holiday season.
UPS spokesman Glenn Zaccara was circumspect about the details of the company’s golf cart program, declining to describe what the vehicle would look like or how many of them would ply Golden’s streets.
He said UPS operates golf carts “in a variety of states” and primarily during the peak holiday season, when the company sees “near double average package volume.” He touted the carts as cleaner and more fuel-efficient than diesel-powered trucks.
“At other times of the year, UPS utilizes a wide array of vehicles, including gondolas in Italy as well as bicycles, snowmobiles, horse-drawn carriages, electric-assist bicycles, mountain bicycles, motorcycles and many other vehicles all over the world,” Zaccara said.
But in Colorado, most people are familiar only with the company’s giant brown trucks, which can be unwieldy and block roads in more compact neighborhoods. Golden police Capt. Joe Harvey likes the idea of downsizing the delivery fleet in some of the city’s older residential areas.
“Golf carts are smaller, so it’s easier to see a dog, a cat or a child running out into the street,” Harvey said. “They will decrease industrial truck congestion in neighborhoods.”
But UPS’ golf carts haven’t been met with praise from every corner. According to a Wall Street Journal story published in June, union leaders cried foul after the Kentucky legislature passed a law allowing delivery drivers to use the vehicles on public roads.
The Teamsters, which represents UPS workers, noted that drivers of UPS golf carts in Kentucky make several dollars less an hour than do company truck drivers. The union also voiced concerns about the safety of drivers in such a small vehicle.
A message left with an official of Teamsters Local 455, which represents UPS drivers in the metro area, was not returned Dec. 6.
Harvey said Golden police aren’t worried about golf carts being a safety hazard in the city. Aside from the 20 mph speed limit, UPS golf carts are required to have front and rear lights, be “conspicuously marked as UPS vehicles” and have a red reflective hazard symbol affixed to the rear of the trailer, according to the agreement.
UPS’ Zaccara said all drivers go through “rigorous golf cart driver training” in addition to federal “powered industrial truck operator” training. In some areas, the company retrofits the golf carts with turn signals, seat belts and mirrors, he said.
Because the golf carts are limited to operating within certain neighborhoods, Zaccara said, UPS brings that day’s package load to a secure location in that neighborhood for storage and pickup by the drivers.
According to the company’s agreement with the city, UPS is responsible for finding locations within Golden’s neighborhoods for storage of not only packages but golf carts and trailers.
Satish Jindel, president of ShipMatrix, a Pennsylvania-based shipping operations consulting company, recently returned from China, where he saw countless small vehicles zipping around the country making deliveries. He said more modes of delivery allow people seeking part-time work more opportunity to land temporary holiday positions.
“It’s about time that we in America open our minds and admit that big vans are not always suitable,” he said. “This is a way to expand the base of people who can get deliveries done in the growing e-commerce space.”