Zero-point transportation

In the span of just three weeks, green-minded transportation businesses in downtown Asheville have doubled.

OK, so the number increased from just one to two companies, but a pair of local entrepreneurs nonetheless are excited about being on the vanguard of a local green-transportation movement.

The first, the Your Chariot Awaits pedicab service, along with its owner, Felicia Thurman, was spotlighted recently by Mountain Xpress (see “The Biz,” April 2). Contract employees peddle the vehicles, which can seat up to three passengers, and make their income in tips from their riders.

The latest entrant is EcoTrips Inc., owned by Russ Keith, a budding entrepreneur who also happens to pull double duty as a retail-advertising representative at Xpress.

Whereas Thurman’s business depends mostly on pedal power, Keith’s relies on a pair of six-passenger electric vehicles made by Chrysler’s Global Electric Motors subsidiary, with a top speed just over 30 mph. And, also unlike the pedicabs, which offer taxi service as well as special tours, EcoTrips is strictly for-hire, with advanced reservations required.

Otherwise, “we’ll do anything,” Keith says. “If you want to rent me out by the hour, we’ll do that. If you have a group of people come into town and they just want to bar hop, we’ll do that. You can just rent me by the hour and I can point out great places around town. A mini version of a limousine is how I like to look at it.”

The service caters to downtown, but Keith says he also serves the Biltmore Estate, West Asheville, Grove Park Inn, the Montford neighborhood and Tunnel Road as far as the Asheville Mall. The service currently operates from 4 p.m. to midnight weekdays, and all day until midnight on weekends. Those weekday hours are apt to expand as the business grows and drivers are added, he says. Fares run from $5 per trip downtown, or $10 if going to an outlying area. Hourly rates are still in flux, says Keith, who just started his service over Memorial Day weekend.

In the near future, Keith hopes to accept advertising on the vehicles in exchange for free electricity. As a sideline, Keith, who has attracted a wealth of curious onlookers while riding around town, also hopes to become a local dealer of the vehicles, with two-seaters fetching about $7,000, according to the manufacturer.

What about competition with Thurman’s pedicabs? Both owners say there is plenty of room in town for both companies, and both are talking about how they can help the other’s business as they settle into their respective niches.

For more info on EcoTrips, check out www.ecotripsasheville.com; to make reservations call 699-1623 (or 669-1624). To reach Your Chariot Awaits pedicab service, call Thurman at 582-1842.

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