7 Mile Free Ride: ‘a party on wheels’
Shanna Kelly | Seven Mile Satellite
Originally published 11 July 2019
LED-lit golf carts cruising down the island have turned heads and sparked curiosity. The carts in question belong to 7 Mile Free Ride, the “one-and-only free ride experience.”
7 Mile Free Ride was cofounded by Keith Hontz and his son Brandon Hontz. The service provides free rides on the island and operates on tips and advertisement revenue. From Memorial Day until Labor Day weekend, it runs every day from 4 p.m. until midnight.
The carts are not only decked out with lights but disco balls, microphones and iPads for selfies and advertisements.
“It’s literally a party on wheels,” Keith said.
To top it off, the vehicles are 100% eco-friendly, as well as speed limit friendly since they max-out at 25 mph. Three of these “green” golf carts are used: two for reservations and one as an on-demand cart.
On a busy weekend, they receive around 50 reservations. The drivers average $5 per rider, and together the carts make between $100 and $150 per night with 20% going to the business. On weekends, however, the carts can rake in between $500 and $1,000 together per night.
The concept for such a business was sparked after Keith saw similar free ride services when traveling for work to places like Scottsdale, Miami and San Diego. In 2017, he brought up the idea of starting a similar business for the island to his family.
And so, the business started with one golf cart, a blue ride, which they stamped the logo onto. Memorial weekend 2017, they set out to test free rides on the blue cruiser. This meant passing people and asking if they needed a ride.
“It was, like, a little bit sketchy,” Brandon laughed. “They were like ‘What, what is this?’ It was just like a random golf cart with some random sign on top and like two kids just driving.”
After that, they decided to approach local businesses for sponsors. They first approached Circle Pizza and Whitebrier Restaurant to see if they wanted to advertise on the cart.
“Then, it started looking a little bit more legit,” Keith said. “We have, you know, 7 Mile Free Ride sponsored by Circle Pizza and sponsored by Whitebrier happy hour, let’s take you to happy hour.”
The service ran only on weekends with Keith, Brandon and some of Brandon’s friends as drivers. It quickly became popular, especially for 21st Street since the Jitney doesn’t go there.
The first year they reached 1,000 riders.
Year two kicked off with the addition of a second car complete with rooftop signage. By the end of that season, they reached 3,000 passengers. They had also upped their sponsors to eight.
“When we drive by the sponsors, they’re seeing our cars and seeing that we’re taking people to their establishment,” Amber said.
Despite the growth they had over the year, there were some bumps along the way. For instance, the carts’ charges weren’t lasting the length of time needed for the customer demand. Averaging 30 miles per charge, the cars also took six to eight hours to recharge. This meant they could only have one car out at a time so that when it died, the other was ready. Naturally, it wasn’t always perfect timing when it did, and drivers have had to push the cars.
“With customers on board, these guys are sweating their tails off just literally pushing them to the closest outlet,” Keith recalled.
In August 2018, they started reservations, which helped business but didn’t help the charge problem.
“We would almost be like, ‘Um, do you really need to go from 7th Street all the way up to 112?’” Keith joked.
To resolve the issue, they now have three cars that last 70 miles and only take an hour to recharge.
“It’s like the Tesla of golf carts,” Keith said.
They also have doors to allow for more advertising and lights to illuminate the roof advertising “like a New York City taxi.”
Additionally, the app and reservation system were revamped. Riders can visit the website or app to make a reservation, or call or text for a ride. Through the system, passengers can choose a time, pick-up and drop-off location and specify a music preference.
7 Mile Free Ride can also be found on their Facebook and Instagram. Amber is “the social media guru” and has helped the Instagram grow to over 1,000 followers.
“It’s also really helpful … to show sponsors that, like, not only are we getting a lot of riders, but we can also show them like, ‘Look how many people are following us on social media,”’ Amber said.
Their 2019 season kicked off on Memorial weekend with a launch party at the Icona, which included raffles, test drives and was a chance for the business to thank their sponsors. The business even gave back to the community by giving a check to the Lions Club.
Since then, they’ve been averaging a “few hundred riders a night” and in the first month, they surpassed their total number of passengers from last summer.
“It means a lot to my dad,” Brandon said. “So, just how it’s been succeeding recently makes me happy because my dad’s happy.”
While a common thought may be how this business interferes with that of the Jitney, Keith says they aren’t really in competition.
“The Jitney actually loves us because we’ll never take their business away,” Keith said.
While the Jitney is a shuttle service with a fixed route, 7 Mile Free Ride is a door-to-door service that can go to streets not on the Jitney’s route. But most of all, 7 Mile Free Ride prides itself on the experience it offers.
“People love music, people love the ride, they love the open air,” Keith said. “The experience is everything for the riders.
Going forward, the staff is looking to continue to grow. The business has already started its expansion to West Chester, Pennsylvania, after Keith’s daughter Carlee Hontz decided to use the idea for a business plan for school.
After a successful one-day soft launch of six sponsors and 100 riders with one cart, they decided they’ll run West Chester Free Ride from Labor Day to Memorial Day.
“The future is looking nothing but great for this business,” Amber said. “And I’m excited to see where it goes.”
Shanna Kelly is a writer and editor for the Seven Mile Satellite. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.