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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

New cart service offers free rides around Gainesville

Zipping around on doorless six-seat carts may soon become the most convenient and environmentally friendly way to move - and it's free.

ZIPcarts, a new Gainesville transportation service launching Sept. 5, shuttles people within the perimeter of 16th Avenue, the southernmost edge of UF's campus, Southeast Seventh Street and 34th Street.

Since the beginning of the testing phase on Aug. 17, about 1,000 students have gotten rides on two green and yellow carts, according to Jordan Long, 21, Santa Fe College business management junior and one of three company founders.

When five dolled-up girls flagged down a cart Sunday evening to catch a ride, their reaction was immediate excitement.

"This is going to be one of my favorites."

"Give me the number. I'm putting it in my phone right now."

"Oh my god. This is awesome."

According to Long, their reaction is common.

"So far, everyone loves it," he said. "They're just amazed that there is a free service that is so convenient."

Sophomore Kelsey Bryant waved down a ZIPcart driving by in her neighborhood at about 11:30 p.m. Monday and got a ride to a Sigma Chi house party. She called the service heaven-sent.

She usually walks when she goes out at night, she said.

"I don't understand the (RTS) routes real well at night," she said. "SNAP sucks. SNAP takes forever. You get scared waiting."

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The university has also responded positively to the idea of the service.

"Anything that's going to provide alternative transportation to someone under the influence of alcohol is a great idea," said UPD spokesman Jeff Holcomb.

But safety and convenience aren't ZIPcarts' only perks - the ZIP stands for Zero-emission Intown People movers. The electric carts, which are street legal on roads up to 35 mph, run on electricity, so they don't emit greenhouse gases. They cost about $1 per day or between 1 and 2 cents per mile to run, according to cofounder Majid Vasigh, a UF alumnus and criminal lawyer.

The company will transport a group of county commissioners from around the state from the Gainesville Hampton Inn to a conference at Santa Fe College around 8 a.m. today to showcase ZIPcarts as an example of the county's sustainability efforts.

The idea for the company was sparked last year when former Tampa neighbors Ryan Clarke, cofounder, and Vasigh were riding on Hop Tampa, downtown Tampa's free, eco-friendly shuttle service.

"We joked about how cool it would be to start one of these things and do it right and do it better," Vasigh said.

This July, they decided to make it happen.

While vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, Clarke discussed the idea with Long, Clarke's friend since high school, and they agreed to start the company. Vasigh hopped on board, and the three devoted their summer nights and weekends to developing and planning.

"We were really serious about it," Clarke said.

"Where better to do it than in a college town where the kids are getting drunk and walking or driving home, and where there are lots of muggings and [robberies]?"

He said the goal of ZIPcarts is trifold - to keep drunk drivers off the roads, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and profit by selling advertisements, which will appear on the sides of the carts and water bottles given to customers.

The three presented their idea to Gainesville's Public Safety and Towing Subcommittee later that month.

"The consensus was a great thumbs up," Vasigh said.

Clarke, Vasigh and Long fronted more than $75,000 in startup costs, including six carts - the two currently operating and four more on order - license plates, T-shirts, business cards and taxi lights for the roofs, but Long said the venture is more than worth the trouble and cost.

Rain skirts, plastic sheets that drape over the sides of the carts, should be delivered within a couple of weeks so the rides can be given rain or shine, Long said. The company is also looking into ordering 11-seat carts to transport larger groups.

The company is also creating an iPhone application and a mobile Web site package for the Blackberry. They will also install GPS locators on each cart sometime within the next month to serve those who can't explain where they are beyond an address, Vasigh said.

Long plans to have at least six to eight carts running in Gainesville by the end of the year. After establishing a firm base in Gainesville, he hopes to expand the company to colleges across Florida and Georgia and eventually franchise the company throughout the nation.

"I want to do all kinds of stuff," Long said. "This is just a stepping stone."

Call 877-ZIP-1352 to schedule a ride. For more information and to find out about advertising opportunities, visit the Web site at www.FreeZIPcarts.com.

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