By Charles Fulco

Lately you may have noticed brightly colored vans shuttling passengers up and down Overseas Highway in Islamorada. Freebee Inc. is a no-charge, environmentally friendly shuttle service for tourists and locals alike that originated in Miami more than six years ago, and has expanded into Islamorada.

“So far, the feedback has been great,” saidJohn Janusz, economic and community development manager for Freebee. Last year, Village Council approved a six-month trial period for the Freebee service for Upper Matecumbe Key to see if it’s worth bringing to the area on a permanent basis.

He cites the “win-win” experience, for visitors who use the service as well as the hotels, restaurants and other places of interest they patronize. Freebee uses ambassadors/drivers who are more than happy to suggest their favorite spots to the out-of-towners they shuttle around. Local businesses appreciate the exposure and are happy to provide special parking areas for the Freebee vans in return. In addition, local businesses can sponsor a van, as have Islamorada Beer Co. and Sunset Inn.

“It’s an innovative way to get your name and message out to Islamorada,” said Janusz. “Our vans serve as a company’s moving billboard.”

So, what makes this shuttle service unique? For starters, the vehicles are eco-friendly—electrically powered and quiet, getting about 65 miles per charge with their latest-generation lithium batteries (batteries are recharged in Upper Matecumbe Key). They can transport up to 14 passengers at 25 mph, while protecting them from sun and rain. The vans avoid the all-too-often traffic jams that plague Islamorada by jutting down side streets and other less-frequented roads, giving tourists an off-the-beaten-path tour of the area, with the added benefit of introducing them to shops they may not have otherwise discovered.

Freebee got its start in Miami, where it has fully supported the city’s Climate Action Plan, allowing its riders to become part of the solution to reduce carbon emissions in and around Miami-Dade area.

Potential riders download the Freebee app onto their smartphones, browse their suggested “Places to Bee” to select a destination, request a ride, get picked up and enjoy the experience. Anyone can catch a ride on Freebee on Thursdays and Fridays from 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturdays from noon to midnight, and on Sundays between 11a.m. and 8 p.m.

“We’re discovering that people in Islamorada love getting into these vehicles,” said Janusz. “We’re also discovering an unanticipated benefit as well. Riders are telling me that we saved them from getting into their own cars after an evening of bar-hopping, and possibly getting into a whole lot of trouble with the police.”

The response has been so positive, he said, that Freebee is looking into expanding all the way down to Key West, via a system of larger, main vans running the length of the Keys with smaller, “connector” shuttles taking riders to their final destinations.

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