Four new transportation franchises are betting the bank on the allure of downtown Raleigh.
If you are already near downtown, consider hiring a rickshaw, a two-person open carriage pulled by bicycle, to wheel you home or on to your next destination.
Founded two years ago by Donald Mertrud, a native of Charleston (where rickshaws are common), Raleigh Rickshaw has expanded to 20 bikes and offers rides seven days a week, including Thursday, Friday and Saturday until 3 a.m.
Mertrud isn't shy about his disdain for the hybrid-electric circulator. "We're 100 percent environmentally clean," he says, while the R-Line is a "big waste of taxpayers' money. ... I think they should be doing less and let private business do more."
For large groups traveling together, or for those who prefer a fixed route and climate-controlled interior, the rickshaws may not be the best option, but on a crisp, dry night, there's nothing like snuggling with a date in the back of an open-air carriage.
Raleigh Rickshaw considers its rides "courtesy," and all payment is in gratuity. Passengers can call 623-5555, hail a passing rickshaw or text a request via www.raleighrickshaw.com.
Three other franchises—Zingo, Zevo Express and Safe Ride Home—allow you to start the night in your own car, pick up friends on the way, park in a garage or with a valet, and if, after discovering at the end of the night that you've had one too many, still get home safely, car intact.
Here's what will happen with Zingo or Zevo: You call a dispatch number. A driver shows up on a sporty little scooter. (Bystanders will stop and say, "Wow, look at that sporty little scooter," and you'll be the center of attention for about a minute.) After a quick fold of the scooter, a zip of its custom canvas bag and a pop of your trunk, the driver hops in your car, takes you and your friends home, jumps back on his scooter and rides off into the night.
The benefit? No DUI, no round-trip cab fare, no "drive of shame," no parking ticket the next morning.
Zingo's Web site is heavily stylized, blaring the Beatles tune "Drive My Car" and featuring nifty black-suited scooter dudes right out of a Tarantino flick. Smart marketing includes gift cards for students ("Are your parents worried about you drinking and driving while at school?") and corporate accounts for risk managers ("Do your employees entertain clients? Reduce your company's liability.") Pricing involves a $10 pickup fee and $3 per mile, plus tip, though the first two miles are free with a valid student ID. Zingo also offers flat rates between Downtown Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
"I used to work at Tir Na nOg, and we would always recommend Zingo. And you can even get a membership . . . if you plan on being drunk for a while," says Colin Couch, a bartender at Busy Bee.
Zevo Express uses the same m.o., and its prices are a comparative bargain, at $10 per pickup fee plus $1 per mile and gratuity.
Safe Ride Home costs the same as Zingo, but refers to their drivers as "chauffeurs." It uses a "chaser" car in lieu of the scooter, which might appeal to a more white-collar crowd or to car aficionados who cringe at the idea of a folded-up scooter in their trunk.