Oceanside approves downtown shuttle service for tourist season

FRED, short for Free Ride Everywhere Downtown
FRED, short for Free Ride Everywhere Downtown, is the San Diego-specific offshoot of Circuit Transit.
(Courtesy, the city of San Diego)

Pilot program will offer all-electric vehicles for six months


Oceanside has approved an electric vehicle shuttle service for visitors and residents downtown for six months starting Memorial Day weekend.

“With most COVID-19 restrictions lifting ... this summer will be a busy one for tourism,” states a staff report by Economic Development Manager Michelle Geller.

“A shuttle service will move passengers around more quickly and efficiently, alleviate parking congestion, and present a fun, new amenity for Oceanside residents and visitors,” Geller said in the report.

The city collaborated with FordX, an experimental arm of Ford Motor Co., to provide a six-week pilot shuttle program at no cost to the city in 2019. The program received “overwhelmingly positive feedback,” but was not repeated in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.

Early this year city staffers contacted Circuit, a company that operates electric vehicle shuttles in San Diego and Huntington Beach about offering a program in Oceanside.

In San Diego, the Circuit service is known as FRED, for Free Ride Anywhere Downtown. The program there started in 2011 and had a high of 275,000 passengers in 2019, before the pandemic kept people home and reduced mobility everywhere, but now ridership is again on the rise.

San Diego’s four-person Environment Committee unanimously approved a one-year, $1.2 million contract extension last month with Circuit. The company operates 20 of its specialized, open-air, six-passenger vehicles in the city.

The same type of vehicles will be used in Oceanside, said Daniel Kramer of Circuit at Wednesday’s Oceanside City Council meeting.

The Oceanside City Council unanimously approved a contract Wednesday with the company to operate a six-month program seven days a week, 12 hours a day, from May 16 to Nov. 15.

“We really need to make this happen for this summer,” said Mayor Esther Sanchez. “The big issue is traffic. It’s trying to reduce traffic and get people into the downtown area and maybe South Oceanside. Eventually, I’d like to see this all year. We have good weather year round and visitors year round.”

The cost of $321,361 will be paid with a share of the city’s COVID-19 relief money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Oceanside received $16.2 million in ARPA money in May 2021 and expects a second installment of the same amount this year.

A fleet of five on-demand, shared vehicles will operate west of Interstate 5, between Vista Way on the south and the harbor on the north. Initial operating hours will be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., though the hours could be adjusted based on demand.

People will schedule rides using a telephone or computer app like the ones used for the ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft.

One detail still to be decided is whether the Oceanside service will be free, like in San Diego, or if it will be operated at a minimal fare of $1 to $3 per passenger, officials said.

Advertising space will be sold on the interior and exterior of the vehicles, and under the contract the city will receive half the net revenue from advertising. The products to be advertised will be restricted from including adult products such as tobacco, alcohol and cannabis.