SAN DIEGO - A free shuttle designed to transport people between parking lots and downtown San Diego restaurants and shops was introduced Tuesday.
"Free Ride Everywhere Downtown," or "FRED," will operate daily under a partnership between the city of San Diego, Civic San Diego and the Downtown San Diego Partnership. Initial funding of $500,000 came from downtown parking meter revenue managed by Civic San Diego.
"We certainly know all of the great restaurants, the shops and entertainment venues that are part of our thriving downtown here in San Diego, but as I think all of us know, sometimes it's not that easy to find parking or a trolley stop nearby," said Mayor Kevin Faulconer. "With the ease of just a few taps on your smartphone, San Diegans and visitors can request a free ride anywhere from East Village to Little Italy."
The venture is starting with a fleet of 15 five-person vehicles, with plans to expand to 20 in the near future.
The mint-green vehicles are plastered with signs offering free rides, and some carry sponsorship advertising. Officials hope sponsorships can fund the entire program in a few years.
The mayor said the all-electric fleet will reduce vehicle emissions and allow people to spend less time looking for parking and more time enjoying downtown attractions.
Reese Jarrett, the president of Civic San Diego -- which assists the city with development projects -- said FRED is "designed to provide that last mile of travel in our (downtown) region."
According to the mayor's office, FRED will operate from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to midnight on Friday; 8 a.m. to midnight on Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
"You can type in an address, you can type in a location, and within the geofence coverage area of downtown, a car will come pick you up and drop you off where you want to go," said James Mirras, the services co-founder.
Similar programs operate in other touristy areas like Santa Monica and Venice in the Los Angeles area, Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale in Florida, and the Hamptons in New York.
More information about FRED and the app are available online at http://thefreeride.com/san-diego.php.