Free Ride

April 2018

Who says there is no such thing as a free ride? Since last July, the denizens of downtown Coral Gables have had the option of taking the Freebee, a six-seat electric car that is gratis to anyone who downloads the app and requests a ride. If you stay within a 1.5 square mile area in the downtown, a Freebee will arrive (average waiting time: less than eight minutes) and take you where you want to go.

The Freebee is the brainchild of UM graduates Jason Speigel and Kris Kimball, who co-founded the company in 2012. Their idea: To offer free rides paid for by advertisers who market their brand via the vehicles. Speigel and Kimball started that year with Miami Beach, then went to Brickell, Downtown Miami, Wynwood, Key Biscayne, and finally Coral Gables. In the City Beautiful, Freebee now operates 3 vehicles; as of February, some 35,000 riders had used the service.

Jason Spiegel and Kris Kimball, co-founders of Freebee

 “The goal is 65,000 passengers for the first year,” says Kevin Kinney, the city’s parking director, who advocated for Freebee to reduce the number of cars downtown. “People generally love it. The comment I typically get is how come it doesn’t come to my neighborhood.”

Whether the Freebee footprint expands will be determined at the end of year one, this June. Partly it may be a matter of cost. The city paid Freebee $175,000 for year one, with the proviso that any advertising revenue exceeding $50,000 for the year goes back to the city. Speigel says he hopes to reduce the city’s cost by $65,000 or more.

Part of that advertising appears on the cars themselves; another big part appears on the app, in the form of offers by local businesses to lure new customers – 20 percent off at Miller’s Ale House, for example, or 20 percent off at Swine restaurant. About 30 businesses advertise, says Speigel.

Businesses can place advertisements on the Freebee vehicle

“We look at Freebee as a true form of ‘first and last’ mass transit,” says Speigel. “The goal is to help people live and work in the downtown area without the need of a personal vehicle, or to be able to leave their vehicle in a garage. It’s now part of the public transportation system of the city.”

It’s also part of the city’s branding, with drivers trained to answer questions from riders. “They are up to date on the city messaging, so they become city ambassadors for Coral Gables,” says Speigel.

Area covered by Freebee