Although it may not be as luxurious as a Rolls Royce, it's hard not to feel like royalty when a Gotcha electric car pulls up besides you. It's got a sleek, black frame and a teal bumper that matches its trunk. In other words: cute. Downtown Sarasota is the newest location for Gotcha, the ride-share service that has already established itself in spots like Savannah, Georgia, and Burlington, Vermont. And from what Gotcha CEO Sean Flood has to say, the company is in it for the long haul.
"Sarasota is a great market," says Flood. "You've got a dense city of people who live here, and a large tourist group as well. You've got a lot of people in a small, confined area who are historically using their cars to make short trips. Since day one, we knew that there was a demand. We just needed to find the right business model for this community."
It's impossible to discuss Gotcha without mentioning its early predecessor: i-Ride. When the company first considered expanding to downtown Sarasota, the City of Sarasota stepped in. The two collaborated on i-Ride, a pilot program that allowed pedestrians to flag down electric cars to get around downtown. The micro-transport system was a handy alternative in an area with constant construction and paid parking, and it was the perfect wingman for bar hoppers everywhere. The best part was its price point: free (with a tip for your driver, of course). In the first 12 months, i-Ride gave over 50,000 rides alone. When that contract ended, the company reverted back to Green Operated Transit Carrying Humanity Around, aka "Gotcha."
That's not all that's changed. Its territory has expanded to 14th Street to the north; Bay Street, where Mound Street and Tamiami Trail meet, to the south; and Lime Avenue to the east. Its hours have expanded to every day of the week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends. Another change: a $3 flat rate. Gotcha will be cash-less, and customers will have to use their cards to pay, with the option to give an additional tip.
"With this new model, we wanted to start with a manageable service area, knowing that it's then easy to expand based on ridership feedback and demand," says Flood. "For example, we think there's some real value in having an operation that goes over the bridge to St. Armands. Well, we want to learn from the riders what they want their service to be, and go from that."
Being taken across downtown Sarasota in a vehicle complete with bluetooth speakers and USB ports for charging phones is charming. Of course, on any given night, there's a chance that you won't be riding alone. Once you've flagged down a car, or requested a ride through the Gotcha app, don't be surprised if there's someone sitting next to you. It's all part of the company's sustainability model.
"Our goal is to decrease what you see here: the demand of single-passenger trips," says Flood. "If you look around, every single one of these trips has one person in the vehicle. That's what causes congestion, and Gotcha's goal is to improve everyone's daily life through sustainable transportation. This is what a city like Sarasota can look like, not five years from now, but a year from now, with decreasing the amount of vehicles you see on the road, and increasing different options like the Gotcha ride."
In the long term, Gotcha plans to expand its presence across the city and is considering offering rentable bikes and scooters, too. And while the thought of not needing a car to get around Sarasota seems farfetched, using Gotcha did feel like a ride into the future.
The gotcha app is ready to download at the Google Play and Apple Store. More information can be found on the Gotcha website.