‘Freebee’ rides now offered in Brickell, downtown Miami

08/19/2014 2:46 PM

08/20/2014 3:47 AM

A free transportation service that has been running in Miami Beach for two years is now operating in Brickell and downtown Miami.

“Freebees” are electric, open-air vehicles resembling oversize golf carts. They give free rides on routes in popular, high-traffic areas, and are outfitted with mini HD televisions and audio systems. Riders often are offered discounts and freebies sponsored by the advertising company that pays to outfit the vehicle and promote its brand. And Freebees light up, so they’re easy to see and flag down at night.

Unsatisfied with their “real” jobs after graduating from University of Miami, business majors and campus roommates Jason Spiegel, 27, and Kris Kimball, 28, put their heads together and came up with Freebee.

KEEPING IT IN-HOUSE

Once they signed on some advertisers, the costs of outsourcing “wrap” ads on the vehicles and outfitting them to represent the clients’ brands got so high that they brought in graphic designer Amir Youssef, 37, as a business partner to handle the jobs in-house.

The trio established Bee- free Media, which specializes in servicing media-buying and printing, ranging from fliers to billboards and everything in between, including car wraps. Their headquarters is a warehouse in Wynwood, where they also print the Freebees’ vehicle wraps.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado cut the ribbon Aug. 1 at Mary Brickell Village to welcome Freebee to the neighborhood and to celebrate its official launch. “It’s important for Miami,” he said. “The only complaint we have about downtown and Brickell is the transit. So now with the trolleys and especially with the Freebees we will be able to move Brickell, downtown and the Omni in a very good way and cool way for the future. Miami is going green.”

ALL-ELECTRIC

The fleet’s 20 vehicles are 100 percent electric and can hold up to five passengers, plus the driver. Monkey Shuttle was a similar company that once provided free rides in Brickell and downtown Miami, but it operated only a few vehicles and later closed.

Linnea Rae, a spokeswoman for Freebee, says she and her team have been so focused on representing their advertising clients — Vita Coco, Yard House, the Clevelander and the Downtown Development Authority are some — “that we never really promoted our own company.”

Now, she is marketing the company more actively so that people can distinguish Freebees from other ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, as well as taxis, noting that short-distance travel and the “fun experience” make them stand out.

SHORT DISTANCES

“Taxis don’t focus on short-distance travel. That fare doesn’t pay enough for drivers to pay the company, to pay their gas and for them to make money. Freebee focuses on short-distance travel.”

Multiple calls to Miami Yellow Cab for comment yielded a voicemail saying to call back again. After calling Alton Road-based Central Cab last week, a reporter was told the director and supervisor had left for the day. Calls to Lyft for comment also went unanswered.

Since each vehicle is dressed to promote the brand and product of each client exclusively, riders are usually given goodies, such as free coconut water from Vita Coco, $5 coupons for Yard House restaurants and “free shot” vouchers from the Clevelander. The drivers serve as brand ambassadors for the advertiser. In the Jack Daniel’s-wrapped Freebee, mini HD TVs show how to make different cocktails using Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey liqueur.

Freebee’s drivers pick up passengers who wave them down in designated service areas and drop them off where they please along the route. The drivers are technically volunteers, but often “make more than a server,” according to Rae, because of the tips they receive from passengers. People tip whatever they want, if they choose to at all.

ONLINE BUZZ

Celebrities like Floyd Mayweather, Jamie Foxx, Dwyane Wade, Alonzo Mourning and DJ Irie have shared photos on social media networks of themselves riding Freebees, generating some buzz online.

Freebee serves Miami Beach from First Street to 45th Street and from Purdy Avenue to Ocean Drive. In downtown Miami and Brickell, Freebee runs from Southwest 15th Road to Northeast 16th Street and from Northwest Second Avenue to Biscayne Bay, providing service from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with extended hours until midnight Thursday through Saturday.

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