By Angela Lindsay
If you’re ever in need of a quick trip around town, just wave down one of the multicolored vehicles that resemble a cross between a bubble-shaped electric car and a minivan. The company is called Jaunt—a local company providing locals with free short rides to area locales.
The idea for Jaunt came to founder E.J Drayton while he was playing professional basketball abroad in 2010.
“They had a similar concept near my apartment that took me to practice, grocery store, etc. They used different vehicles, of course, and charged a certain fee depending on how many blocks you wanted to go,” he says. “Also, it was very convenient, entertaining and, most important, cheaper than a taxi.”
Drayton says that in 2013, he began noticing other companies in the United States offering a similar service, and the “positive impact they were having on their city and neighborhoods.” So, in 2016, he decided to retire from basketball and take a leap of faith and start Jaunt.
“The word jaunt means a short journey, and that’s exactly what we do. We’re a final mile solution that helps connect neighborhoods, transit, shops and other local businesses within uptown, NoDa, South End, Plaza Midwood and the metropolitan area,” he explains. “(Final mile simply means) we connect people for that last leg of their travel—whether they have meetings in different buildings or they need a ride from the transit (station or a) parking lot to their favorite restaurant. Our final mile solution takes pride in helping people feel comfortable (leaving) their cars parked and still be able to get around in Center City.
Drayton felt that Charlotte was the perfect place to start his business for one major reason—this is where he was born. With the city growing so fast, he knew there was a need for this type of service and “wanted to get in early.”
“No matter what, this (will) always be my home and (the place) I’m familiar with the most. I’ve seen the growth firsthand, and understand the challenges that the city faces and will face in years to come. As the city grows, so will the carbon footprint due to traffic congestion,” he says. “At the rate uptown is growing, parking and connectivity within the uptown neighborhoods will be an issue for time to come. So, our final mile solution was the perfect fit.”
Jaunt vehicles are 100 percent electric “e-vehicles” that hold up to five passengers each. The service is free and is sustained by partnering with local and national for-profit and nonprofit companies whose brand or service is “wrapped” onto the e-vehicles to spread those companies’ initiatives at the street level while the cars zip around town.
“All our drivers are brand ambassadors that take time out to make sure they know where the coolest eats, bars or entertainment spots are in uptown. So, even though the rides are free, tips are appreciated and keep our drivers buzzing!”
Jaunt’s e-vehicles operate Monday through Thursday from 11a.m. to 8 p.m and Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. They don’t run on Sunday. They focus on the busiest times in uptown, when people need to go to meetings, home or to grab a quick bite to eat without the hassle of finding parking or having to pay for additional parking if they move their cars.
“Also, it gives the brands that are wrapped on our e-vehicles prime-time exposure during the heaviest foot traffic,” Drayton adds.
Interested riders can wave down a Jaunt vehicle if they see one or get in contact with Jaunt drivers by texting their location and number of riders to 704-980-2742. The text alerts all Jaunt drivers, and one will respond with his/her arrival time. Drayton says he is working on an on-demand app, similar to those of Lyft and Uber, that should be ready in mid-summer or early fall. In addition, Jaunt plans to double its fleet this summer and “really start pushing the Jaunt brand out to help grow.” So far, Drayton says the feedback has been nothing but “amazing,” leading to the decision to focus on expanding the fleet in uptown.
As far as that leap of faith Drayton took in 2016, he says he would have taken it sooner, knowing what he knows now.
“Starting a business is by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I love every minute of it,” he says.”
The first two years have been a learning curve, he adds, as bringing something to the city that has never been done before has its advantages and disadvantages. However, his outlook for the company’s future is positive, particularly given the assistance he’s received from the community:
“I’m truly blessed to have a few city officials believe in my journey and push the Jaunt brand. With their support and guidance, I feel confident that I’m making strides in the right direction.”