A new rideshare company wants to get you and your friends around Charlotte’s entertainment hubs for free.
GEST Carts, which stands for Green Easy Safe Transportation, launched on Dec. 17 in Charlotte, offering free rides throughout uptown and South End.
The small, battery-powered vehicles can be hailed using a dedicated app, much like Uber or Lyft. But unlike a traditional rideshare, they won’t be taking you home after a night of bar hopping.
Charlotte franchise owner Corey Johnson calls GEST Carts an “experience.” The low-speed vehicles carry five passengers plus a driver.
Get the latest news and trends impacting Charlotte’s Black-owned businesses
“This is about the music, the lights, the experience,” Johnson told QCity Metro in a recent interview. “People enjoy the four- to five-block ride while they’re in this cart.”
Johnson, who lives in Seattle, Washington, grew up on Charlotte’s east side, graduating from Independence High in ’97 before heading to North Carolina State University and UNC Chapel Hill.
Patrick Dye, also a Charlotte native, co-founded the company. He said GEST Carts are all about helping riders cover the “last mile” to reach their final destinations.
“As everybody knows and everybody has seen in urban core transit, that last mile is always lacking,” he said. “In a lot of metropolitan areas, streetcars don’t go to certain areas, so it’s that major void that never gets filled.”
They’re in other cities, too:
GEST Carts is currently operating in Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Denver, Las Vegas and now Charlotte. Dye said he plans to expand to five more cities in early 2022.
How is it free?
That’s the number-one question Dye said he gets.
His answer: The company makes money by placing ads on the side of each GEST Cart.
“Our advertisers see this as not just a mobile billboard but an interactive billboard,” he said.
Dye said advertising clients in other cities include Anheuser Busch, Hard Rock Casino, ProLink Staffing, Proctor & Gamble, Kroger and Beam Suntory.
In Charlotte, GEST Carts will start with two vehicles and expand to six or ten in the next few months, Johnson said.
As for service hours, the carts currently operate only in the evenings, but Johnson said those hours will expand as winter turns to spring.
Dye and Johnson, who’ve been friends for more than a decade, said partnering to bring GEST Carts to Charlotte is particularly meaningful.
“We’re really excited to bring this to both of our hometowns,” Dye said.
How it started
For Dye, the idea for GEST Carts came from living in the urban core of Cincinnati, Ohio, and “hating to pay for an Uber everywhere.”
So in 2018, Dye, a bar owner in Cincinnati at the time (he sold the bar this year), and his wife launched GEST Carts.
By the end of 2019, he said, the company had “so many people reaching out” they decided to expand, but then the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Dye said he initially wanted to pump the brakes, but franchise owners wanted to press forward, so in April of this year, GEST Carts launched in Detroit, followed by Chicago in May.
And just a few weeks ago, GEST Carts kicked off service in Denver.
“One amazing thing” he said, “is that all of GEST’s franchises are women- or minority-owned.”
Years before the company launched, Johnson and Dye met in Cincinnati and became friends. (Dye graduated from South Meck High in ’03 and attended UNC Charlotte.)
Johnson, who routinely invests in private companies, said he became a GEST franchise owner because of his relationship with Dye and their mutual connection to Charlotte.
“We can’t stress it enough; this is our hometown, this is where we’re born and raised, and we’re going to leave an impression on the city that they will love,” Johnson said.