Eighteen hundred forty-three rides were provided in March 2021 by a free transportation business in Islamorada. Florida Freebee is an eco-friendly option for changing the way people move around by providing free-to-users, electric, on-demand, door-to-door transportation in several high-density areas in South Florida. Jason Spiegel, managing partner of Freebee, on Feb. 4, 2021 gave a brief history of its free shuttle service in Islamorada at the village council meeting.
According to ridership reports for February and March 2021, more locals than tourists are riding in Freebee by a margin of about 61 to 38 percent. But, even if locals use Freebee, they are likely using it to get to businesses. The age range of riders is provided in the reports, but no pickup site data or drop off site data is available — which would help determine which businesses benefit the most from this service.
Village taxpayers are financing this service. But, should other organizations or businesses have skin in the game? If, say, 38% of riders are tourists, should the Tourist Development Council support Freebee service with 38% of the $320,000 annual cost? If, say, 30% of tourist riders come from Amara Cay, Cheeca Lodge and The Islander Resort, should those resorts that benefit contribute to the $320,000 cost? Right now, village taxpayers are its primary financial supporter.
New Tesla X
Since Freebee doesn’t run on Mondays, this means it is available 313 days a year, so it costs village taxpayers a little over $1,000 per day. Is there a better way to fund this service?
In November 2018, Freebee launched a six-month pilot program using an eco-friendly golf cart with a maximum speed of about 30 mph on Upper Matecumbe Key, thanks to the support of council. The goal was to help lower the number of cars on the road, reduce drunk driving and reduce the village’s carbon footprint. It aimed to serve local residents and tourists.
In March 2020, Freebee added two electric vans which can meet the 45 mph speed limit in the majority of Islamorada to service all four islands of Islamorada, with the same goals as stated above plus enhancing safety on the highway as Freebee seems to act as a designated driver.
Due to Covid-19, the service paused in April and May 2020, but prior to that time, it had the highest ridership numbers to date, Spiegel said. The village-wide Freebee ridesharing program resumed service June 5, 2020 with special Covid-19- related rules and cleaning practices in place for everyone’s health and comfort.
Freebee vehicles did not run on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.
Over nine months, from May 2020 to January 2021, the average of local users to visitors was 64%, according to Freebee data provided by the village.
Spiegel on Feb. 4 suggested replacing the eco-golf cart serving Upper Matecumbe Key with a Tesla vehicle — at a cost of about $43,000 said Spiegel — that can travel between all the islands since it can go 55 mph “at no cost to village, and to lower wait times for passengers, and increase ridership.”
On Earth Day, April 22, the Tesla Model X was delivered. It is able to travel the full distance of the Village, providing increased service to residents and visitors from the north end of Planation Key to the south end of Lower Matecumbe Key. The new Tesla Model X replaces the open-air golf cart-style vehicle that was limited to service on Upper Matecumbe.
What does this free service cost village taxpayers?
Village Resolution No. 19-07-48 extended the existing agreement with Beefree, LLC d/b/a Freebee, and directed Freebee to acquire larger vehicles that could provide services to the entirety of Islamorada, not just Upper Matecumbe Key.
This resolution, adopted on July 18, 2019, enabled the village manager to enter an agreement with Freebee effective October 15, 2019. The Village agreed to pay up to $320,000 annually for Freebee’s expanded services.
Actual annual cost for services was estimated at $317,280, according to Finance Director and Acting Village Manager Maria Bassett.
The 24-month service period was to start when delivery of the larger vehicles occurred; thus, the 24-month agreement started March 1, 2020. The term should have ended Feb. 28, 2022; however, since services were suspended for two months during the pandemic’s shutdown of the Keys, the 24-month term of the agreement now ends on April 30, 2022.On or before Jan. 31, 2021, the village had the option to terminate the agreement, but the council chose not to terminate it.
The agreement says the village is to receive a portion of advertising revenue should Freebee be able to sell advertising space. Freebee is entitled to the first $120,000 of ad revenue. The village would receive 50% of advertising revenue above that. Bassett said she is hopeful this might occur; thus, the amount included in the village’s budget for these services was reflected at $300,000 instead of $317,280, allowing for $17,280 in advertising revenue. As of April 21, 2021, however, no revenue sharing has been received by the village, according to our village clerk, despite advertisers such as Blue Marlin Jewelry et al stepping up. The village’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30, 2021.
Is there sufficient incentive for Freebee to solicit a significant amount of ads as long as we are paying its costs? Perhaps negotiations come April 2022 need to be more in favor of taxpayers and less in favor of Freebee and other businesses that greatly benefit at taxpayer expense.
Freebee’s operating hours are:
Tuesdays and Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Thursdays 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Fridays from 11 a.m. to midnight
Saturdays from 12 p.m. to midnight
Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
To use the free service, download the Ride Freebee app from the App Store or from Google play. If you don’t have a smart phone, call 855-918-3733 or 305-984-5057 to request a ride.
Freebee picks up customers at their home, hotel or business within the Islamorada. Request a ride and jump on board the electric vehicle to visit your favorite Islamorada destination.
Freebee ridership report for March 2021
Freebee ridership report for February 2021
Freebee ridership report for December 2021
Freebee ridership report for September 2020 (7 pages)