When she was a waitress at the Siesta Key Daiquiri Deck in 2010, Briana O’Brien often fielded questions from customers who wanted to know the best way to get around the Key without a vehicle.
Those queries sowed the seeds of an idea that has blossomed in the form of the Green Hopper, a battery-powered vehicle O’Brien uses to ferry passengers around the Key, on St. Armands Circle and in downtown Sarasota. Her emphasis, she said, is on community sustainability.
O’Brien presented her business to the Siesta Key Village Association Tuesday morning during its regular meeting. She estimates regular usage of her Green Hoppers could keep as many as 3,000 vehicles off the road.
“It’s a huge impact on the environment,” she said. “Siesta Key’s really a perfect fit for it,” she said of the service, as the Village is too far a walk for many of the people who stay in condos on the south end of the island.”
Currently, O’Brien has a fleet of four vehicles. She began offering the free rides on the Key during the Siesta Fiesta fine arts and crafts show in April. Her income derives from advertising on the vehicles’ digital screens.
Although the concept is similar to Jonny’s Free Beach Rides, another service operating on the Key and downtown, O’Brien said she started her company first. She operated under the “For-Hire Vehicle” section of the city code, she said.
“I charged a penny for a ride,” she said.
O’Brien said she plans to expand to Bradenton and Venice by the end of the year.
The Green Hoppers operate from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. They do not travel to Turtle Beach, because they are low-speed vehicles and cannot travel legally on streets with speed limits higher than 35 mph.
“I will not risk the safety of passengers to make a couple of bucks,” she said.
When Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café, asked O’Brien whether she would consider operating during the daytime, O’Brien said she would, during season.
“We can sit down and go over something,” she told Kouvatsos.
Many people are reluctant to come into the Village from the beach during the daytime, because of parking difficulties, Kouvatsos said.