A local businessman has set a plan in action for a free shuttle service that will run through downtown Aiken in an attempt to free up parking spaces and give people an easy, quick alternative travel method for exploring the area.
Norman Dunagan, founder and owner of Dumpster Depot, is an entrepreneur who doesn't dwell on the past and thinks ahead toward the future, choosing to invest in businesses that benefit the community.
Freeloader is the name of Dunagan's new business venture, and it is a free shuttle service with a mapped out route through downtown Aiken. The vehicles will also be 100 percent electric.
"We're going to start with one car sometime around mid-February and see how it goes," Dunagan said. "If everything goes well with that first car, then we plan on bringing a second shuttle sometime around April in time for The Masters tournament."
Dunagan said the idea for Freeloader came to him during a vacation with his wife in Blue Ridge, North Carolina. He and his wife were a few minutes late for a planned train ride and while standing on the platform, Dunagan saw an electric car drive past.
He later found out that electric car was owned by a local businessman who offered a free shuttle service in the area.
Dunagan also said the failed parking garage that was supposed to go in downtown Aiken to help with parking played a big role in bringing the idea to fruition.
"The parking garage issue is on all our minds, especially business owners here in downtown," he said. "I believe small businesses are the solution. This is a really small problem in a small town and an entrepreneur can solve it. Instead of a $13 million parking garage – we will put out a free service for patrons."
One of the main issues that was a constant topic of discussion during the talks for the parking garage was employee parking.
"Besides all the employees who work in the different businesses downtown, the City of Aiken itself has over 200 employees working downtown," Dunagan said. "That's a lot of cars taking up parking spaces downtown, and those are all parking spaces the customers don't get to use. With Freeloader, those employees can park further away to clear up those spots for customers."
Dunagan said he's made the process simple for anyone to catch a ride with Freeloader in downtown Aiken.
"All anyone has to do is park, hop on the Freeloader app, drop a pin and the shuttle will come scoop you up and get you to your location completely free. Plus, the average wait time for the shuttle will only be around 3 to 5 minutes," he said.
Once the free shuttle service starts running, residents can download the Freeloader app directly onto their phone at no charge.
"To cover our costs, we are going to ask for small business owners in the area to advertise with Freeloader, by getting an ad for their business directly on the outside of the vehicle," Dunagan said. "We are also asking those businesses to pay a subscription free to move their employees from parking in front of their businesses and other people's businesses."
For more information, visit freeloadershuttle.net.