“The mountain is high the valley is low
And you’re confused on which way to go
So I’ve come here to give you a hand
And lead you into the promised land
So, come on and take a free ride
Come on and sit by my side
Come on and take a free ride”
The Free Ride (TFR), founded by James Mirras of Montauk and Alex Esposito of East Hampton, began service in 2011. That’s right – it’s FREE! Using electric vehicles, TFR (formerly known as Hamptons Free Ride) offers a shuttle pick-up service at select locations in Southampton, East Hampton and Montauk to help people get around from hotspots, beaches and main streets. Their mission is simple: “We use electric cars to cut out the cost of fuel and work with some great sponsors who make the service possible.”
How can it be free you ask – well, the former graduates of the University of Florida (Mirras) and Bentley University (Esposito, who earned his MBA too), respectively, combined their finance and economics studies to finally pursue their own entrepreneurial endeavors after spending time in the corporate worlds of both Morgan Stanley and Accenture. Esposito handles Sales and Marketing, and Mirras handles Operations and Finance. These gentlemen believed “That people would love easy, free transportation to their favorite hotspots and maybe even something they’d never tried. [They] set out to do things differently from the start, using gas-free electric shuttles and working with awesome, forward-thinking brands.”
Mirras and Esposito have kept the wheels turning by partnering with other local and distance operators, municipalities and clients to offer this terrific service, and have watched as the idea has grown and blended with the same sensibility as other companies. In 2012, they partnered with Chris and Stacy Dimon of Spot Rides in Southampton. This is an idea that captured everyone’s attention and gratitude. TFR has grown each year since its inception, and has added new routes, and in some cases partnered with local operators in Santa Monica, Venice, San Diego, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and on the Jersey Shore.
TFR operates Memorial Day through Labor Day (seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Labor Day through Columbus Day (weekends only, same times). In Southampton, you can hop on TFR or wave it down at the train station, Main Street, Jobs Lane, Cooper’s Beach and Agawam Park. In East Hampton, catch a ride from Khanh Sports, Park Place Wines and Liquors, the Long Term Lot (next to the YMCA), Lisa’s Lovely Organics and Main Beach, and in Montauk, from Atlantic Terrace Motel, The Sloppy Tuna and Navy Beach.
Hamptons.com managed to catch up with these two very busy gentlemen for a few questions:
This is a wonderful service that you offer both residents and visitors, what was the impetus for launching such a great idea?
AE: There have always been parking and traffic issues around town and at the beach in the summer. In East Hampton, where we started, there was also an under-utilized parking lot, so we figured if people could get a free ride around town it might encourage them to park there and cut down on the unnecessary cars.
Can you explain how it works from a business standpoint?
AE: Initially it started as a simple ad-supported transportation service. By using electric cars, we cut out the cost of fuel and by working with sponsors we fund the service. More recently we’ve been working with cities, and in some areas we also receive subsidies to help with mobility. It’s really become an interesting micro-transit solution in places like San Diego, Santa Monica and West Palm Beach.
Is there any difference between the East Coast and West Coast services?
AE: All of the services have a character of their own. The good thing about the West Coast is it’s year-round. The Hamptons season, as we all know is a little too short.
We can only imagine the feedback from the public has been overwhelmingly positive, but have you encountered any difficulties launching services from either commercial or local municipal agencies?
AE: The cities that we work with have been great and realize the benefits. As I mentioned we’re working with some to implement new programs to help with congestion, parking and mobility. In most cases, it’s a much more efficient solution than a traditional trolley service. It helps traffic and benefits the environment, so there’s not too much to complain about.
How many cars operate simultaneously in each area of the Hamptons?
AE: There are 22 cars across the three towns. Depending on special events that are going on, the number in each town can vary a bit, but never less than five.
Who and how do you select drivers?
AE: James oversees all of the operations. He works with our Ops Director, Brian Powell, who handles hiring. We’ve been fortunate to have some great, long-term, loyal employees and always a fun group in the Hamptons in the summer.
What is the most important component of TFR, other than it being free of course, that you would like riders to know?
AE: We’re going to begin rolling out our app to new markets, so stay tuned!
You have grown each year since your launch, any upcoming plans you’d like to share?
AE: We’re always looking to grow. There are a few new markets in the works, but it looks like Austin, Texas is the next one on deck.
For more information go to thefreeride.com.