MTS scrutinizing downtown free ride program

Posted at 5:44 PM, Dec 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-20 12:03:43-05

San Diego's free ride shuttle service to anywhere in downtown is planning to expand with even more shuttles.

But not everyone is excited about the increased access to free rides.

And now, Metropolitan Transit System is scrutinizing the service to see whether it should be the agency in charge.

The Free Ride Everywhere Downtown program, called FRED, launched in 2016 with 17 electric shuttles. Civic San Diego, the city's downtown development arm, gave The Free Ride, a private company, a $2 million loan to get started. Civic San Diego last month authorized an additional $3.7 million so FRED can add another about a dozen more vehicles. 

Civic San Diego structured FRED in a way that it would not be under Metropolitan Transit System's taxi and pedicab regulations.

"A year ago when I initially talked with MTS, we were all in agreement that we would not be subject to annual permits due to the fact that we were not charging fares or soliciting tips," said project manager Ben Verdugo. "If MTS is looking into FRED right now, they have yet to get in contact with us."

But FRED was soliciting tips in its app at least for a time, and that's part of a complaint to MTS filed by local attorney Kamran Hamidi, of the San Diego Airport Taxi Association. 

Ali Horuz runs VIP Outdoor Media, which has dozens of pedicabs, and six electric shuttles that resemble FRED's. Horuz says he pays thousands of dollars in permitting fees to MTS, and abides by its taxi and pedicab regulations. 

"It's not a fair playing field here," he said.

MTS spokesman Rob Schupp confirmed the agency was investigating the complaint, but would not provide further details, including how a decision could impact the free ride program.

James Mirras, the program's co-founder, said FRED has been in full communication and compliance with MTS. He said the service removed the tipping part of its app, and said he looks forward to expanding and providing free rides for years to come.