ST. PETE BEACH — The city’s popular Freebee on the Beach shuttle will soon extend its service from its northern terminus at Pinellas County Beach Access Park, 47th Avenue and Gulf Boulevard, to 75th Avenue off the Corey Causeway.
The change will see the city’s free, door-to-door, on-demand, electric vehicle taxi service extended from southern part of the city and Pass-a-Grille to the middle of the island.
Potential riders call 855-918-3733, use the Freebee app, or flag down an available Freebee to request a free ride from a location within its current service area south of 47th Avenue, and are transported to their location in the southern part of the island. Drivers are compensated by St. Pete Beach, and according to the city's wishes, gratuities cannot be accepted for service.
During a Sept. 13 budget hearing, commissioners unanimously voted to expand the service to the middle of the island.
City Manager Alex Rey reminded commissioners that during the summer budget talks they discussed the idea of adding a third Freebee to the city’s fleet to increase service from county park to 75th Avenue. The city has scaled back Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority service and used the savings to fund Freebee service, Rey said.
The city manager said staff came up with an option to add a third Freebee that operates only 7 hours a day, probably from 9 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m., rather than the 14 hours that the other vehicles operate, to serve an area between the county park and 75th. That would cost the city $80,000 in its first year of service.
Carryover funds from this year will pay for the new Freebee. Then, when PSTA’s Bus Rapid Transit system from downtown St. Petersburg to St. Pete Beach commences, the city will eliminate the Central Avenue Trolley (CAT) service to cover funding going forward.
“We heard from a lot of people in the community. Everybody likes the service, everybody wants to see more of it, and the sooner we can bring it to at least the mid- to north beach section, (the better),” he advised commissioners.
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher supported the idea “because people love the service, they love it so much. It’s also a different ridership. People who are talking Freebee aren’t taking the CAT.”
Commissioner Chris Graus concurred. “A lot of people in my district are asking, ‘When are we coming up to the top of the beach? When are we going to be able to get this in my neighborhood?’” he said.
The city might struggle with high-volume ridership, Commissioner Ward Friszolowski suggested.
“I think our biggest problem is going to be how … once the word gets out how good it is, how are we going to be able to handle the volume of calls?” he said. “We’ll never be able to handle it on big events, we know that. I think that will be our biggest challenge, which is a good challenge to have — that means people are using it so much.”
Commissioners unanimously voted to allocate $80,000 in carryover money to fund the additional Freebee on first reading. A second reading and final budget hearing will be held Monday, Sept. 27.