ST. PETE BEACH — In mid-November or early December the city will implement its own micro-transit bus service and begin ferrying passengers from the area of the Don Cesar Hotel into Pass-A-Grille.
During their Sept. 17 meeting, city commissioners unanimously agreed to enter into a contract with Miami-based Beefree, which operates under the name Freebee, to provide transit service currently handled by PSTA buses.
Freebee provides free rides on eco-friendly cars that are similar to golf carts.
The city received only one response to its monthlong request for proposals in August, City Manager Alex Rey told commissioners.
According to its Facebook page, “Freebee is an alternative transportation service and marketing platform that currently services Downtown Miami, Miami Beach, and Key Biscayne with a fleet of fully customized 100% electric vehicles.”
City commissioners agreed to accept Freebee’s bid to provide three years of micro-transit service for an amount not to exceed $794,174, with the option to request an extension of the contract for two additional one-year periods.
Rey told commissioners terminating its PSTA service from the Don CeSar into Pass-A-Grille saved the city about $150,000 that will be put toward micro-transit.
Eventually, additional savings will come from PSTA turning its buses around at the county park north of the Don CeSar, which may also result in the city adding an additional micro-transit trolley, he explained.
“I’m excited because I have worked with this company before, and I think they can provide good service. They are very responsive and do very high-quality training of their employees. They train their employees to be ambassadors of the city, not just a driver, which really makes a huge difference,” Rey told commissioners. “Their employees will know about what’s going on in the city.”
Vehicles will also have a video screen that can play information about events and advertisements from businesses, he added.
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher said the service will allow employees who work along the route to use a smart phone app and find a more efficient way to get to work.
“I am so excited about this service,” she said. “When I think of all the people who will benefit from it, it’s going to be amazing.” Pletcher suggested the city should also look into another micro-transit firm, Moke America, which might offer fancier service.
Rey said there is potential to contract with Moke America to provide additional service for future needs.
“Now we are in control,” said Mayor Al Johnson. “Before we were at the mercy of PSTA, and to be honest, they didn’t respond to everything we asked for.”
Rey told commissioners the company will be procuring a new vehicle, which holds about five passengers and has a manufacturing lead time of six to eight weeks. The micro-transit service is expected to begin operations around mid-November to early December.
In the meantime, the city will continue to receive trolley service provided by PSTA.
The micro-transit service will operate a route through the Pass-a-Grille neighborhood from the Don Cesar Hotel down to First Avenue, following a similar route as PSTA’s Central Trolley service, with the ability to deviate from the route for on-demand trip requests, which will pick up and drop off riders closer to their origin or destination.
In addition, riders can also request Freebee service either by phone app or by flagging down a vehicle.
The Freebee service offers a mobile app platform that allows riders to track vehicles in real time.
“The mobile app also acts as an economic development tool, as it allows local businesses to promote their business via the “Places to Bee” or the “Freebee Deals” section of the app,” Rey explained.
As part of its contract Freebee will share 50 percent of advertising revenue with the city, which helps to subsidize the cost of the transportation service, Rey told commissioners. Freebee projects that the City can receive up to $12,000 in advertising revenues per year for each vehicle in operation.
The city will begin operating with one vehicle; the expected first-year cost will be about $132,350, Rey said.
Freebee will provide one wheelchair-accessible vehicle. The city reserves the right to request additional vehicles by giving the company 60 days’ notice.
According to information provided by Freebee, “the 100% electric Polaris GEM vehicle has a very welcoming, open-air vibe that is perfect for beach and island communities.”
“The look at the feel of the vehicle will be quite complimentary to the Pass-A-Grille area,” the city manager told commissioners.