By Linda Robertson Miami Herald
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The Freebee vehicles, which look like elongated golf carts, take passengers door to door on short hops within a limited radius. A phone app makes calling a car similar to the procedure for Uber and Lyft, but rides are free.
Freebee, the free ride-hailing service that has beguiled passengers throughout traffic-choked South Florida, is expanding to Doral, shuttling schoolchildren in Miami Lakes and adding 10-passenger cars to its all-electric fleet.
Freebee plans to launch another operating zone in downtown Doral on April 1 and is hoping for the same success it's had in Coral Gables, where ridership averages 20.3 passengers per hour, and Key Biscayne, where ridership averages 17.4 passengers per hour. In Coconut Grove, ridership has increased 300 percent since last year.
The Freebee vehicles, which look like elongated golf carts, take passengers door to door on short hops within a limited radius. A phone app makes calling a car similar to the procedure for Uber and Lyft, but rides are free.
"It's convenient, it's free, you're having fun and smiling," said Jason Spiegel, co-founder of the company. "We are short-distance, inter-municipality transportation that provides high ridership at a lower cost for cities because our clean-energy vehicles require less maintenance and no gas compared to trolleys and buses.
"Our goal is to get people out of their cars."
If you're wondering how anything so simple and efficient can be free, it's because local governments use money from their transportation budgets to subsidize the cost of running the service, and advertising placards placed on car panels serve as marketing and branding tools that generate revenue for the company, which was founded by two University of Miami graduates, Spiegel and Kris Kimball.
Freebee, which added Fort Lauderdale to its route roster in early March, will provide another transit option in fast-growing Doral, where traffic and parking hassles worsen in conjunction with development.
Freebee has answered Miami Lakes' call for help with the drop-off and pickup of kids going to and coming home from school, lightening the chauffeur duties of parents. The Miami Lakes fleet will be dedicated to student transport in the morning and at dismissal times. Students can also ride to soccer practice or an after-school program.
Freebee's fleet of six-person vehicles (five passengers, one driver) will be supplemented with new 11-person vehicles (10 passengers, one driver). A total of 58 cars that can reach a maximum speed of 35 mph operate in Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, Key Biscayne, Pinecrest, Miami Lakes, Miami Beach, central Miami (including downtown, Brickell, Midtown, Wynwood, Design District, Edgewater), Fort Lauderdale and Islamorada. After Doral, Freebee is looking to expand to Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay and Homestead. Spiegel gave three examples of typical Freebee routes.
"In Pinecrest, a commuter who works downtown takes Freebee from his house to the Metrorail station and then back home in the evening," Spiegel said. "In Miami Lakes, a senior citizen takes Freebee from home to the grocery store or a doctor's appointment. In Coral Gables, people can leave the office and take Freebee to lunch, and residents use Freebee to run an errand, go shopping, go out to dinner or go to the movie theater."
Freebee provides an alternative for everybody who would rather be a hermit and stay home than deal with the agony and expense of driving and parking.
"We're driving people to businesses and mass transit stations," Spiegel said. "We're changing the one-person-per-car mindset."
Freebee started in Key Biscayne, where it now carries 63,486 passengers per year in three vehicles throughout a 1.7-square-mile zone, and "it has taken over the Key, 75 percent of our riders there are women and children, parents love it and trust it to be safe and reliable," Spiegel said.
Coral Gables contracted with Freebee in 2017 during the city's Streetscape renovations on Miracle Mile and Giralda "when businesses were hurting during construction and they wanted to get people to the front doors of businesses," Spiegel said.
Coral Gables now has three cars transporting 74,067 passengers per year and expanded its zone to include the Douglas Metrorail station.