The local ride-share aims for electric vehicles to carry it beyond Downtown and into the future.

Chris Potts and Tomos Mughan are hoping a glorified golf cart will be the future of travel, at least for now. The flagship vehicle for their ride-sharing venture is the Polaris GEM e6, which has a blistering top speed of 25 mph and looks like the offspring of a Smart car and a station wagon. Behold Hopper Carts, which launched in Columbus last year.

Like Uber and Lyft, Hopper is generally hailed through an app. Unlike those global brands, Hopper's hours are limited and its geographic range is tiny—the Short North and Downtown. The selling point? It's free.

Businesses underwrite the cost of the six-person GEMs. Hoppers are recognizable for the ads splashed across the sides, and the founders say they've had support from AEP, CoverMyMeds and Germain, among others. Inside, tablets play sponsored videos, and sometimes riders get samples of products like Pepsi or Lifewtr.

In year two, the founders are aiming to include ads within the app and the onboard tablets, and they plan to offer app-based coupons to local restaurants. Perhaps their biggest adjustment was hiring drivers as employees rather than as contractors, which allowed for more training. “They're more of a brand ambassador than they are a driver at this point,” Potts says.

Hopper is also booking more paid private events, like weddings and brewery tours. The founders hope to expand to other markets soon, with Dublin next in their sights. They're not committed to the retro-futuristic golf carts—they're “vehicle agnostic.” Electric SUVs, 14- or 16-person electric shuttles and the Honda Clarity series are potential options.

“We believe that the future of transportation lies in the sharing economy,” Mughan says, “and it lies in electric.”

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