Downtowner goes green: Tesla takes Tampa

by Sydney Rhodes

Tampa’s free app-based shuttle Downtowner is in the process of upgrading their vehicles. Currently, the public company has been provided with three Model X SUV Tesla’s until March and will eventually switch to the all electric Chevrolet Bolt.

Previously, Downtowner drove a five passenger vehicle similar to a golf-cart, called a GEM. Comparatively, the Tesla X is equipped with a 17 inch touchscreen display where the downtowner map is presented to the passengers and driver, as well as falcon opening doors that swing up for entry.

The Tesla vehicles were provided by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) at no cost to the program, according to Co-Founder of Downtowner, Travis Gleason.  

The Teslas were previously being used for another transit program that recently concluded,” said Gleason. “However, HART’s lease on the Teslas was through March 2019, so they graciously offered the vehicles to help support our program until then.”

Downtowner launched two years ago in Tampa and started up with the GEMs, but unfortunately the company has faced issues with the carts. They have a lower battery life that requires the drivers to swap vehicles throughout the day, Gleason said . This ate up a lot of time and was difficult during a busy day.  

As of Aug. 23, all GEM vehicles in Tampa were replaced with Chevy Bolts and Teslas. Since then, the all-electric Bolts have been completing more rides per hour than the GEMs did. Tesla’s also have an extended battery life compared to many other cars, which was a deciding factor for Downtowner.

“I’ve been with Downtowner since they began,” said Alexis Perry, driver for Downtowner. “I love working with the people I work with, they’re always looking for improvements and to make transportation easier on this city. The switch to Tesla’s has shown that.”

Downtowner services a border within in the Downtown Tampa area, transporting the public to various popular locations. The service area includes the University of Tampa, the Central Business District, the Channel District, Harbor Island and the Tampa River Arts District, which includes Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, as well as the Tampa Museum of Art and the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

Despite the launch of the new vehicles, Downtowner has not made any official plans to extend its service locations.

“I’d like to see the map expand more. When you look at our app, you can see we have a simple, small border,” said Perry. “Now that we have efficient cars, the company has spoken about extending locations for an extra charge, but of course that would be taking away from the soul purpose of Downtowner. We’re meant to be a free, inner city transportation service.”

Although the service locations have not yet been extended, the service hours were shortened by two hours each day. The hours can be found on the Tampa Downtown Partnership website.

“In previous years, there were a few grants available that assisted in funding the program,” said Gleason. “Unfortunately, those grants are no longer available. In order to continue operating 7 days a week, service hours have been adjusted to focus on the busiest hours of each day, when ridership demand is highest.

With that being said, don’t be surprised if your downtowner pulls up in a futuristic-looking Tesla.

“I requested a Downtowner the other day and expected the golf-cart car to pull up,” said sophomore and marketing major, Jon Kaback. “My driver had to call me to tell me they were sitting in the white Tesla. When I walked up, the doors swung open like wings. I felt like I was in a spaceship.”

Sydney Rhodes can be reached at


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