Golf-cart transportation service Qwik Ride eyes expansion into Riverhead

Since launching in Patchogue in May, the owners of Qwik Ride say they’ve given more than 9,000 rides in the downtown area.

Word spread quickly that the free golf-cart transportation service, similar to ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, was helping to ease parking woes in Patchogue. Last month, five more street-legal Polaris Gem E6s began operating in Huntington and more will soon be on the road in Northport and Port Jefferson.

Now, founders Dan Cantelmo and John Yancigay have their eyes on the East End.

“Riverhead is up and coming,” Mr. Cantelmo said. “And I’m sure with that comes parking issues.”

They see an opportunity for their vehicles during large events like Alive on 25, but noted that the carts could also be used to transport people to and from locations like the Long Island Aquarium, Tanger Outlets, hotels and the growing number of downtown breweries.

“We like to get the town on board,” Mr. Cantelmo said, adding that he’d be interested in meeting with the Town Board to devise a plan. All he would need from Riverhead, he said, is a place to store the fleet of golf carts and source of electricity to charge their batteries.

Riverhead would welcome the Qwik Rides with open arms, according to Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and Riverhead Business Improvement District executive director Diane Tucci.

Though the parking issue is exacerbated by a large influx of cars for special events downtown, Ms. Jens-Smith sees year-round promise in Qwik Ride service. 

“It’s that last mile of transportation,” she said in an interview Monday. “You can get here by train, you can get here by jitney, but then once you’re here, how do you get to that next place? I think the Qwik Rides are part of addressing those issues,” she said, noting that it could encourage visitors from points west to use mass transit rather than bringing their own vehicles.

She also said it could be an option for the area’s aging population, enabling them to take advantage of downtown events, including shows at the Suffolk Theater and Vail-Leavitt Music Hall.

Dan Cantelmo started Qwik Ride with his childhood friend John Yancigay. The 30-year-old business partners were inspired by a similar service spotted on a trip to Nashville. (Credit: Tara Smith)

In Patchogue, Qwik Ride was pitched as a way to alleviate crowded parking lots, especially during events like Alive After Five. According to Mr. Cantelmo, restaurant workers in Patchogue are encouraged to park on the outskirts and hop on a cart from there. “This way, we open up parking spots for people coming to the village. They can now get that front-row spot,” he said. 

Patchogue Village officials have embraced the service while they continue to work on solutions, according to David Kennedy, executive director of the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce. “It’s been a big hit,” he said, noting that it has been helpful transporting people from Main Street to waterfront locations on the southern end of the village. Even his neighbors, who live beyond walking distance from Main Street, have used it to avoid parking altogether. 

“Parking is still at a premium in Patchogue, but [Qwik Ride] helps give us an alternative option,” Mr. Kennedy said. “They’re environmentally friendly, electric and actually very nice looking. They look cool driving around. It checks a lot of boxes.”

Like Uber, Qwik Ride has an app to set pickup and drop-off locations and its drivers are vetted and background checked, Mr. Cantelmo said. 

Unlike Uber, the service is free; patrons are encouraged to tip their drivers.

The service isn’t meant to replace Uber, but to complement it — especially for shorter trips that aren’t economical for rider or driver. “You’re not gonna take an Uber from Dublin Deck to Main Street” in Patchogue — a distance of less than a mile — Mr. Cantelmo said.

Qwik Ride makes money by selling advertising on the six-passenger golf carts. Sponsors can advertise on video screens inside the carts or wrap the outside of the neon-green vehicles.

The 30-year-old business partners and childhood friends say they were inspired by a similar concept they saw in Nashville during a bachelor party. “We thought it was a cool concept and could work in local areas,” Mr. Cantelmo said.

Qwik Ride also aligns with a separate business they operate, Late Night Chauffeurs, a designated-driving service that gets customers and their vehicles home safely.

Before launching in Riverhead, Ms. Jens-Smith said she’d like the owners to meet with the Town Board as well as the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and downtown revitalization committee.

“We have been looking into being able to put a charging station [downtown,]” Ms. Jens-Smith said.

She’s also hoping Riverhead will be considered as part of a new Suffolk County bike sharing program. In May, the county awarded a contract to Zagster, a Boston-based bike sharing program that operates dockless share services in over 100 municipalities in the United States. 

“Every downtown strives for walkability and a reduction in cars,” the supervisor said. “People want to go out to dinner, to go out to an event, without having to bring a car with them.”

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Photo caption: Qwik Ride, a free transportation service, launched in Patchogue in May. The street legal, six-person golf carts could be hitting the streets in Riverhead soon. (Tara Smith photo)