Otowner gets around town

Published 6:00 am Sunday, December 13, 2015

If you’re looking for a hip, green and “smart” way to efficiently get from place to place in Oxford, there’s a new car service on the scene.

Otowner, a company owned by Oxford resident Quentin Whitwell, uses low-speed, electric vehicles to transport Oxford residents around town similar to a taxi service or Uber.

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“We’re kind of that perfect balance between a regular motorized taxi — which often has cars, vans, buses, whatever — and the rickshaws, which are pedaled,” Whitwell said. “Our sweet spot is really giving people short-distance rides to locations for convenience sake.”

The business has a fleet of five Polaris GEM cars and six licensed drivers.

“They are super cool,” said Whitwell. “You can’t even hear them when they come. They kind of have a European body style. They are different — not just like a typical golf cart you would see out on a country club golf course.”

Vacation idea

Whitwell said the six-passenger cars must stay in speed zones of 35 miles per hour or less. While they offer an open-air experience, the cars do have doors and heaters for passengers during cold weather.

“My family took a vacation down in South Florida this summer, and there’s a business down there that is just bustling around the main thoroughfare,” Whitwell said, explaining how he got the idea to bring the electric cars to Oxford. “We saw that and thought this would be great for Oxford. And we were so well-received. The mayor and city council were very supportive.”

After meeting the city’s regulations, Whitwell said the business was officially approved by the city Oct. 4. Otowner has operated during a few football games, and the owners have been busy promoting the business.

“We’re a super cool company that’s in growth mode,” he said, “and I think you’ll see a lot more out of us in the future. Since I’ve stepped into this business, I’ve learned a lot about the transportation industry. I’ve learned a lot about our city and its infrastructure needs.”

The business now operates on limited hours Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

“Right now, our typical customers are those people who are going to the nightlife and getting home, and we operate as a designated driver,” he said. “That’s primarily because we are just starting to get our drivers and everybody in place. But we are starting to get more requests by text.”

Whitwell said drivers are on stand-by to accommodate.

“There are a lot of people who live in close proximity to the Square who don’t want to walk,” he said. “They want to go, maybe to an early bird dinner, and they will text us and line it up.

“We’re getting a good mix. We are starting to get some parents to call for their children to take them to the movie theater and the bowling alley, which is in our footprint as well.”

Whitwell said otowners.com features a service area map. He said the rides currently cost about half the price of a taxi cab ride.

“We would not have started this business just simply for the profit side,” he said. “It’s got a steep curve to get to the point of making a living, but we did this for Oxford.

“Unfortunately, the taxi industry in this town has tarnished the quaint, hip, nice trendy side of the image of Oxford because the taxi cabs are, generally speaking, anything but that,” he said.

Great concept

Doug Wheeler, Whitwell’s Otowner business partner, is one of the drivers. He also handles the cars’ maintenance and operation.

After retiring from a boat sales business, Wheeler said he was looking for a new venture.

“It was such a great concept for the community,” he said. “We see it as a great way to serve the community and enhance what Oxford is. Oxford is such a cool place, and the Otowner concept is really cool.”

Wheeler said the cars average about 25 to 30 miles between charges.

“We may have some cars out at night driving, and some cars charging at night,” he said.

Whitwell said Otowner provides a more positive image than your typical taxi.

“It is more than a leisurely joy ride,” he said, “but it is, in fact, a solid mode of transportation.”

Whitwell said he hopes to see the business grow into a full taxi service.

“We are doing it because we love Oxford,” he said. “We love its reputation and its image, and we’re not bashful about it. . . We’re just trying to raise the stakes of the game.”

About LaReeca Rucker

LaReeca Rucker is a writer, reporter and adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

A veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she spent a decade at the Gannett-owned Clarion-Ledger - Mississippi's largest daily newspaper - covering stories about crime, city government, civil rights, social justice, religion, art, culture and entertainment for the paper's print and web editions. She was also a USA Today contributor.

This year, she received a first place award from the Mississippi Press Association for “Best In-Depth Investigative Reporting.” The story written in 2014 for The Oxford Eagle chronicles the life of a young mother with two sons who have epilepsy, and details how she is patiently hoping legalized cannabis oil experimentation will lead to a cure for their disorder.

Her website is www.lareecarucker.com.

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