by Paul Bowers
The latest entrant in the downtown transportation market has a fresh idea: All electric, no fares.
A company called Scoop CHS is expected to launch its new transportation service on the peninsula within the next two weeks, starting with a fleet of four Nissan Leaf plug-in electric cars and a team of five drivers. According to CEO John Suddath, the ride really is free, although riders will be encouraged to tip their driver with either cash or a credit card. There is currently no suggested tip amount.
"Of course, you're going to get those people that don't tip or don't tip well, but I think you'll have just as many that overtip," Suddath says.
In lieu of fares, Suddath the company will make its money by selling advertising, first on iPads that will display ads inside the vehicles and eventually on the exteriors of the cars themselves.
Suddath has not set a starting date for Scoop CHS services yet, but he says he expects to be open for business in about two weeks. Initially, Scoop CHS will operate from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and will offer rides to and from almost anywhere on the peninsula south of Spring Street (see map below).
The most obvious point of comparison for Scoop CHS in Charleston is UberX, which launched its paid ride-sharing service in Charleston back in July. There is at least one similarity: Scoop CHS is developing a mobile phone app that allows users to summon a ride using their GPS location.
Initially, though, Suddath says riders will only be able to summon a Scoop ride by calling a phone number. There are a few other differences as well:
• No surge pricing. Unlike UberX, which has earned some controversy by hiking up fares during peak traffic times, Scoop CHS will offer a flat $0 rate.
• Fewer liability concerns. Whereas UberX allows anyone who passes a background check, auto inspection, and insurance check to use a personal vehicle as an ad-hoc taxi, Scoop CHS has just five drivers — three of whom co-own the company.
• It's actually legal. While UberX has been caught in a legal tangle with city and state authorities who say the company's drivers are operating an illegal taxi service without permits, Suddath says he has already met with state and city leaders and gotten approval for his plan. City Council gave the company a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity at its Aug. 19 meeting, and all of the company's cars have limousine license plates and Vehicle For Hire permits displayed on the rear bumper.
According to city regulations, a taxi is a vehicle that operates "on call or demand, accepting or soliciting passengers indiscriminately for hire ... and which remuneration is determined on a per trip basis." A limousine is defined as one that "accepts passengers exclusively on a pre-arranged basis, which remuneration is determined on an hourly basis."
UberX, meanwhile, remains in a legal quagmire in Charleston. The city's legal department has been saying since May that UberX drivers can face fines of up to $1,049 or 30 days in jail for failing to comply to city requirements. In response, UberX has said that it will pay the fines of any driver caught in a police sting.