Expansion village-wide begins in February

MORE FREEBEE

Expansion village-wide begins in February - A close up of a car - Palmetto Bay
Freebee vehicles like this one currently transport locals and guests from their door steps or resorts to restaurants, bars and shops. VILLAGE OF ISLAMORADA/CONTRIBUTED

On Upper Matecumbe, Freebee vehicles stay busy transporting locals and guests from their doorsteps or resorts to restaurants, bars and shops. And come next month, service will be available to all islands within the village.

The free electric vehicle ridesharing service began its operation in November 2018. While many people are downloading the app to request rides, service is limited to Upper Matecumbe, as Freebee carts can’t traverse the bridges. With the program becoming more and more popular, and a desire to take vehicles off U.S. 1., village council approved expanding the program to allow for two larger vans to transport riders over the bridges from Plantation Key to Lower Matecumbe.

According to the village, delivery of the vans to Freebee was supposed to happen in late 2019 but was delayed. Now, service is expected to ramp up the first week of February. 

With service to all village islands, Vice Mayor Ken Davis said it’s going to be a game changer. 

“I think it’s going to take cars off the road, which we need to because people talk about the traffic,” he said. “It’s great for seniors with it being a door-to-door service. You can’t beat it.”

With the village-wide service, vans and carts will operate every day of the week for a total of 70 hours. On weekends, service will run from 11 a.m. to midnight on Fridays and from noon to midnight on Saturdays. On Sunday, vehicles will operate from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

Councilman Jim Mooney said he believes more locals will use the ridesharing service now that vehicles will cross bridges.

“At the end of the day, being able to have Freebee pick you up and take you to places like Old Tav and back will be great,” he said. “

Freebee is changing the way people experience South Florida in cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Key Biscayne, Doral and Islamorada. Providing rides for free, the electric transportation is an alternative to driving a car through busy roads — and it’s reducing the village’s carbon footprint. During an initial six-month trial period, 6.24 tons of CO2 emissions were prevented from being released. 

Jason Spiegel, Freebee co-founder and managing partner, told council that he feels good about ridership in the first six months. Passenger numbers exceeded 1,300 during May. In addition, per-month passenger numbers bettered those of Fort Lauderdale and Pinecrest.

Islamorada Chamber of Commerce executive director Judy Hull said Freebee’s expansion will benefit local businesses and relieve some congestion on the road. 

“I think it’s going to be very good,” she said. “Hopefully, the end result will be less cars on the road.” 

Expansion village-wide begins in February - A close up of a car - Compact van
Vans like these used in Palmetto Bay will transport riders village-wide beginning next month. VILLAGE OF PALMETTO BAY/Contributed

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Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).