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San Diego's free downtown shuttles gain popularity amid shifting transportation trends

Posted at 11:30 PM, Dec 27, 2019

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A free shuttle program in Downtown San Diego continues to grow, more than three years after it launched.

They’re known as FRED shuttles, short for Free Ride Everywhere Downtown. The program is operated by a company called Circuit, which has received about $5.7 million from the City of San Diego to run the program for five years.

From 2018 to 2019, Circuit said they saw a 22 percent increase in ridership. Part of that was due to a new app that makes pickups and drop-offs more efficient.

“The app it pulls a lot more people,” said FRED driver David Crook.

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The purpose of the shuttle is to incentivize people to leave cars at home, freeing up parking and reducing congestion downtown. Those are also goals of dockless scooter and bike companies, which have flooded San Diego over the past few years.

But unlike the scooters, FRED shuttles have avoided widespread criticism.

“We’re disruptive but not problematic,” said Alex Esposito, co-founder of Circuit.

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If anything, they’ve stayed somewhat under the radar. Circuit said in 2019 they had more than 250,000 riders in San Diego. That averages out to $4.40 per person, per ride. That’s more than the city spends on public transportation per rider, but Betsy Brennan with the Downtown San Diego Partnership says, FRED is a different type of service.

“Point-to-point is more expensive than a fixed route bus system,” said Brennan.

That money comes from meter and garage revenue in the downtown parking district.

Still, the goal is to recoup most of the city’s money through ad revenue and partnerships.

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“The hope is to have full cost recovery, but we’re not there yet,” said Brennan.

You can find the free app in your phone’s app store under “Circuit.”