New horizons for ‘The Free Ride’
By Lana Harrison | Downtown Partnership News
Why have three caterpillars when you can have 20 ants?
It’s a funny question but an apt analogy and unofficial motto for Alex Esposito and James Mirras, founders of FRED (Free Ride Everywhere Downtown). The question has served as a way to explain the value that the zero-emissions, free shuttle service brings to the communities it serves.
While traditional transportation systems require a significant amount of infrastructure investment, FRED capitalizes on a localized, app-based system that’s adaptable to the needs of the community, and a vehicle for advertising local brands.
For residents and visitors to Downtown San Diego, friendly chats with FRED drivers in the — characteristically San Diegan — open-air vehicles, are a staple of navigating the Downtown scene.
Within the first six weeks of its launch in August of 2016, more than 26,000 people signed up for the app, according to Esposito. It has since served more than 140,000 riders — doing so with zero emissions.
Yet the transportation needs of the Downtown San Diego community are growing. The 17 FRED vehicles currently traversing its streets and neighborhoods are just not enough to meet the increased demand of passengers.
Which is why we applaud the recent decision by Civic San Diego to approve increased funding that will not only expand the FRED fleet from 17 to 30 cars over the next three years, but also allow the company to invest in newer lithium batteries, which will double the operating time for the vehicles.
What does this mean? More cars, less time charging in the garage, continued sustainability, and greater mobility for employees, residents, and tourists Downtown.
This move is a testament to the innovative, clean-tech spirit of not only FRED, but the Downtown community — a spirit advertisers are catching on to.
“Brands want to get behind it because they’re putting their advertising dollars to use benefiting the community and benefiting the environment,” Esposito said.
Just as FRED gives people Downtown the freedom to live their stories, so too does FRED provide advertisers the opportunity to connect their stories with passengers.
Along with more cars and cooler lithium batteries, FRED’s future will focus on creating what Esposito calls a “360 experience” by understanding what passengers need and want and how potential advertisers can meet those needs.
So, you hop in a FRED, try a product and then, if you like it, find out where that product is Downtown … and FRED can take you there.
FRED has certainly been an inspiring case of a public-private partnership and the renewed support from CivicSD demonstrates a continued commitment to serving the community in a sustainable, forward-thinking way.
This collaboration also frees FRED up to focus on its long-term goals: more cars, more jobs, less greenhouse gasses, and building a base of local brands that can connect to the unique needs of local passengers.
FRED is smart. It’s smart for passengers, it’s smart for the environment, and it’s smart for Downtown San Diego. We’re excited to be along for the ride.
— Lana Harrison is the communications coordinator for the Downtown San Diego Partnership. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.