If getting around downtown bums you out, call FRED.
Operated by New York-based Free Ride, the all-electric, open-air vehicles will cruise downtown from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and later on weekends.
Navigating the shuttle
Coverage area: South of Laurel Street, west and south of Interstate 5 and west of Barrio Logan (16th, Newton and Sigsbee).
Schedule: Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 7 a.m. to midnight; Saturday, 8 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; variable times on holidays.
How to order: Flag down a vehicle as it passes by or use the FRED app, downloaded at thefreeride.com/fred. Handicap service is available.
You can either stand at a corner and wave down one of the distinctive blue, five-passenger cars or download an app via the company website, thefreeride.com/fred, and request a driver. The goal is to pick you up within eight minutes - and alleviate the anxiety of finding a parking place.
Free Ride, which operates in 10 cities in four states, had already been serving downtown with five vehicles. It was chosen from a variety of applicants to run a shuttle system sought by Civic San Diego, the city's downtown development agency. The Downtown San Diego Partnership business group also has been involved.
"San Diego has taken very much the front seat and focus of our company," said Free Ride co-founder James Mirras. "We think it's going to be looked at around the country. We're really trying to hit a home run to drive that innovative service ... and make it the best we possibly can."
CivicSD set aside $500,000 initially from downtown parking meter revenue to cover $200,000 for 10 new vehicles and $300,000 in storage, charging stations and start-up personnel costs. Up to $2 million over five years has been earmarked for the program with the possibility of more if needed.
The downtown parking district gets nearly $2 million annually from its share of parking meters to spend on various construction and maintenance projects.
Mirras said 15 drivers have been hired so far. They will earn $14.66 per hour, including benefits, in accordance with the city's living wage ordinance. The company covers its costs and makes a profit by selling advertising on the inside and outside of each vehicle.
Gary Smith, president of the Downtown Residents Group and a member of the downtown parking district board, said the service will primarily serve residents, workers and visitors who can leave their cars for the day or night and use the shuttle for short trips.
He guessed that car trips within downtown may drop as much as 25 percent over the next five years if the shuttle is successful.
roger.showley@sduniontribune (619) 293-1286 Twitter: @rogershowley