The owners of Hamptons Free Ride seem to be blazing trails all over the place. Their jaunty little electric cars migrated this winter to Palm Beach, Florida, where a new service called Palm Beach Free Ride was launched, rolling sun-kissed passengers to shops, restaurants and beaches along the coast.
That was after Alex Esposito and James Mirras, the company’s co-founders, branched out last summer from an already-established route in East Hampton Village to colonize new ones in Montauk and Amagansett.
And now they’ve partnered with SpotRides, which was launched by Stacy and Chris Dimon in Southampton Village last summer, for what appears to be an imminent East End takeover.
Last year, SpotRides, like Hamptons Free Ride, ferried riders in open-air, eco-friendly carriages to shops, beaches, the train station and parking, selling highly-visible advertising on the vehicles’ exteriors. The Dimons’ cars, like the Free Rides, were GEMs, or global electric motorcars, which can hold 5 passengers plus the driver and run at low speeds on rechargeable batteries that need a plug-in about every 40 miles. The passengers ride for free.
Mr. Dimon said last week that the new partnership, which will use the Hamptons Free Ride name, became official over the winter. “It made sense,” he said, adding that it offers the Dimons “a bigger brand” and better prospects for expanding. “Instead of competing with another company, we can be one big corporation that services the whole East End and further,” he said. The Dimons will be partners not only in the Southampton Village routes but also in any East End ones the company decides to add in the future. Westhampton Beach is one possibility, Mr. Dimon said.
“Chris has ideas of going west [and] he obviously realized that we were in East Hampton,” said Mr. Esposito, who hails from East Hampton, while Mr. Mirras grew up in Montauk. “They are Southampton locals,” he said of the Dimons. “They had kind of gotten things under way in Southampton.”
As they did last year, the Dimons will leave some of the driving to themselves. “We’ll be just as much a part of it as we were before,” Mr. Dimon said, “but we’ll be using the Hamptons Free Ride name and hopefully selling more advertising and making one brand for the entire East End.”
This year, there will be four vehicles in Southampton Village, twice the number as last year, which Mr. Dimon said will make the shuttle business more efficient.
“It’s kind of a win-win,” Mr. Esposito. “We have a couple of cars that we’ll be contributing to that route.”
The Hamptons Free Ride shuttles will fire up again in East Hampton Village, Amagansett and Montauk as well as in Southampton Village over Memorial Day weekend. The total fleet will most likely be 17 cars—four for each downtown-beach route, for sure, plus perhaps a fifth in East Hampton Village.
“It’s going to be a fun summer this year,” Mr. Esposito predicted. Exterior advertising, or “wrapping”—which is often whimsical, showing painted torsos with real passengers filling in the heads, for example—has already been sold for the summer on about 10 cars, according to Mr. Esposito. Vita Coca and Heineken are two advertisers that will make repeat appearances on the shuttles, which often offer product samples as souvenirs.
Meanwhile, Helen Ficalora of Montauk is “wrapping” a shuttle this spring in Palm Beach, where she has a store on Worth Avenue. Hamptons Free Ride launched its Florida shuttle late this winter; it runs to Palm Beach Island, where the beaches are, and through a downtown area of West Palm that’s filled with shops and restaurants—sort of like “going through a small city and then driving through Southampton to Cooper’s Beach,” Mr. Esposito said.
“The advertiser on the outside gets a city-type exposure in West Palm but then they still get the beach … so it’s interesting,” he said. Mr. Esposito added that one of the good things about resort areas for advertisers is that there’s a rotating audience of visitors on which to make a lasting first impression.
The Palm Beach shuttle will probably shut down the first week of May and get back on the road with six cars in November. The launch was “soft” and a bit late, Mr. Esposito said, during which time he and Mr. Mirras, who went to college in Florida, got their feet wet as well as the approvals they needed. “We kind of learn as we go,” he said, adding that “the response has been great.”
There are two Free Ride shuttles in Palm Beach now, Mr. Esposito said. He and Mr. Mirras plan to leave “at least one down there for a couple of little events … just to get the name out there.”
Back in Southampton Village, Mr. Dimon said the route will be the same this summer, and the motorcars will also serve events like the Parrish Art Museum’s Spring Fling. “We want to try to help people out in the village with parking, give people a nice, enjoyable ride throughout the village and help local businesses with advertising and direct marketing to people in the village,” Mr. Dimon said.
SpotRides did well last summer, with good feedback and local advertisers, although the schedule was less extensive than the couple had hoped, Mr. Dimon said. This year, he said, “We’re going to really be able to do what we set out to do.”