November 7, 2018

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press
Freebee managing partner Jason Spiegel, right, and Bryan Jobe exhibit an electric mini-buses before a Village Council meeting.

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press Freebee managing partner Jason Spiegel, right, and Bryan Jobe exhibit an electric mini-buses before a Village Council meeting.

ISLAMORADA — The village will launch its experiment with the Freebee on-demand transportation service soon after Thanksgiving.

The service, free to passengers who call for service by smartphone app or regular phone, will operate two electric minibuses from Thursday through Sunday on Upper Matecumbe Key during a six-month trial period.

“Everybody is extremely excited,” Freebee managing partner Jason Spiegel said. “Islamorada will be our first operation in the Keys. We really want to connect with the locals and visitors.”

The village committed up to $80,000 to have two five-passenger minibuses available at certain times for the trial period.

“We’re still getting all the details of the program set up,” Spiegel said. “Based on its success and feedback, the trial period could be extended.”

Freebee also sells advertising on the buses and seeks transportation-related grants for funding. If those sources of revenue succeed, costs to Islamorada could drop.

“We’ve been out down there and making sure everybody knows we’re coming,” Spiegel said. “Our No. 1 priority in Islamorada is getting cars off the road during a very busy and important season.”

The potential to reduce U.S. 1 traffic strongly appealed to Islamorada officials.

Under the initial schedule, Freebee buses will run 4 p.m. to midnight Thursdays and Fridays; noon to midnight Saturdays; and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays.

Freebee currently has about 50 buses running in Miami-Dade County cities, including Miami Beach, Coconut Grove and Key Biscayne. The buses create “a community where people can live, work and play without having a car,” Spiegel said.

During the local trial period, the small buses will run mostly on Old Highway on Upper Matecumbe. Those commercial low-speed buses are not approved to cross bridges.

If the Freebee service stays, Spiegel said, it will pursue larger electric buses that can venture to all four of Islamorada’s islands. The company’s first large bus, also electric, is being prepared for use in Miami Lakes.

Passengers can schedule a free pickup by using the Freebee online app or by calling a dedicated telephone number.

“We realize that seniors and other folks may not have a smartphone,” Spiegel said.

More information will be provided as the start date nears.

kwadlow@keysnews.com