While attending a convention in San Diego or visiting beach cities such as Santa Monica, Venice, the Hamptons or Palm Beach, you may see a shuttle branded with advertising that is filled with happy riders. This free, clean, sustainable last-mile/first-mile mobility solution is operated by a U.S start-up called Circuit.
Alex Esposito, co-founder of Circuit (formerly known as The Free Ride), explains why the free shuttles are better than ride-sharing services and micro-mobility e-scooters to get riders where they want to go.
“It all started in the summer of 2011, in East Hampton, where there was a parking lot that wasn’t being used while the parking lot by the beach was packed. We wanted to find an easy way to get the people to the beach,” says Esposito.
Esposito and Circuit co-founder James Mirras thought providing bus rides would be too expensive and, if beach-goers had to pay for a bus, it probably wouldn’t work. They realised that through advertising and partnering with municipalities they could provide free rides. They used electric shuttles to reduce the cost of fuel and to be clean.
The vehicles are electric Polaris GEM vehicles that have doors for each row to make it easier for passenger access. Riders can request a ride within a city area of coverage through a smartphone app or hail a ride by waving a vehicle down. Hotel concierge staff can also request rides for hotel patrons.
Gradually, the team added more areas of coverage offering free short-range rides in Santa Monica, Venice, San Diego, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood (Florida) and on the Jersey Shore. Service is also available in Brooklyn, Boston, Houston, Austin and Dallas.
Sponsors include Qualcomm, Runa Energy Drink, Zappos, Verizon, Coca Cola, T-Mobile, Heineken, Jet Blue and L’Oreal Paris.
The Circuit shuttles are deployed based on data from the apps for the busiest times and are especially popular during conventions at the San Diego Convention Center. In the past, Comic-Con International visitors were treated to carpool karaoke rides to promote ‘The Late Late Show with James Corden’ through carpool karaoke songs playing on a video monitor with words and the conventioneers could sing along with the songs as they are riding.
Another promotion with Vita Coco coconut water proved to be a great success. Riders learned about Vita Coco and sipped free coconut water on trips. Riders’ expressions are captured and recorded by an in-vehicle camera.
This service in the San Diego Civic area cuts down on uses of Uber and Lyft services for short-distance transportation, says Esposito. Often those drivers come from outside the downtown area creating even more traffic to move people around a small area.
Unlike Uber and Lyft drivers, Circuit drivers are paid hourly wages, their backgrounds are checked and they live in the area, therefore, they know where the area. Circuit drivers are trained professionals, Esposito says. Circuit also has a rigorous insurance policy and training process.
Dogs are allowed on the for free rides on the shuttles if they are well-behaved at the discretion of the driver and the passengers. For example, the driver may not allow a dog if a passenger is allergic to dogs.
The driver has the discretion to not allow service to someone who is intoxicated or acting in a way that is dangerous to the passengers. The drivers maintain and clean the vehicles. The vehicles are stored in private garages, shopping malls and base stations. Vehicles always pull into a loading zone or any other available area to drop off or pick up passengers.
Listening to feedback and changing the name to Circuit was part of the company’s participation in Urban-X Accelerator sponsored by MINI that supports and mentors startups to solve city problems. They discovered the former name ‘The Free Ride’ confused people because it was too general, however, Circuit implies electricity and also implies connections, says Esposito. The incubator is also helping with improving the software and apps.
Esposito says he has ridden e-scooters which he thinks are viable options but they are not practical.
“I know my grandmother would never use an e-scooter,” says Esposito, “The best solution is multimodal, that’s available to everyone that is ecological and accessible to everyone. Circuit shuttles have roofs on them and are safer and more comfortable while connecting to mass transit.”
Esposito says more free-ride Circuit services will be launched in more U.S cities, soon.
“It’s totally unique and fun. When we go into a city, we don’t change the city. We try to align with existing transit. We want to help transit not disrupt it. We create routes to support it. We work with cities in a granular way. We believe if we offer free eco-friendly connections to trains and buses then more people will use them,” says Esposito.
He believes Circuit’s shuttles are helping the environment whilst reducing congestion.