The Freebee Effect
Miami’s transportation system is one of the most diverse and unique in the United States. In addition to buses, trolleys, trains, and autonomous people movers, Freebee shuttles provide an important service. These electric-powered shuttles offer convenience and connect people to places that might otherwise be difficult to reach by walking, thus unlocking numerous opportunities to redefine the built environment. On-demand free rides can be requested using the Freebee app or by flagging down a shuttle. Recently, the Miami Parking Authority initiated a one-year program with Freebee to determine the service's feasibility downtown.
For urban and mobility planners, a difficult aspect of public transportation is how to solve First Mile and Last Mile mobility, connecting people from a transit stop or parking location to their final destination. Downtown Miami, fortunately, has a menu to provide that connectivity, including electric bikes, scooters, and the Metromover.
The first mile and last mile issue is often discussed regarding occupants of public transit. Within the Freebee Shuttle Downtown Service Area sits Government Center and Overtown Metrorail stations, 13 Metromover Stations, and numerous bus, trolley, and jitney stops. What is often overlooked is that First Mile and Last Mile issues are also being created due to dependence on private vehicles. People often search for spaces close to their destination even though it may be far easier and cheaper to park slightly farther away.
Manolo Reyes, City Commissioner for District 4 and Chair of the Downtown Development Authority has supported the Freebee shuttle service and advocated for higher usage in Miami Parking Authority garages. Most trips into Downtown Miami still occur by car, and frequently with only a single occupant. Cruising, the act of driving while looking for parking (often for an on-street parking space) creates significant traffic and dirty emissions that pollute our air. This also makes our city less efficient as cruising is done at slower speeds and can result in accidents due to distracted driving.
The Miami Parking Authority manages over 46,800 parking spots with approximately 11,800 on-street spaces. In Downtown Miami, there are tens of thousands of public parking spaces available from the MPA and private operators within garages and parking lots. Yet Downtown Miami still prioritizes most of our public space to the movement and parking of private vehicles, with only a small amount of the space for sidewalks.
If more people utilized the thousands of parking spaces in the existing garages and parking lots, we could remove some on-street parking to create wider sidewalks, increase street trees to reduce the heat island effect, add protected lanes for scooters and bikes, make space for outdoor dining, add dedicated loading zones, and create more efficient on-street vehicular movement. These changes are already in the works with the Flagler Street Renovation, the proposed Avenue 3, and Biscayne Green. Designated Mobility Hubs can be installed next to MPA garages, Metro Rail, and Metromover stations. The hubs would include dedicated spaces for Freebee shuttles to charge and idle waiting for riders and designated electric bikes and scooters pick-up and drop-off stations. Widening sidewalks will also make it safer for pedestrians. As a result, there would be numerous options to safely, conveniently, and economically get from garages to people’s final destinations. Across the Bay
Miami Beach installed street signs directing motorists to the nearest garages and identifying the cost savings available for drivers who park in garages. Similar signage can be installed downtown so that visitors and residents are aware of changes. By moving more drivers to specific garages, traffic patterns and signalization can be improved downtown. By charging the right prices for on-street parking, we can maintain one or two open spaces per block. Prices will balance supply and demand. The availability of on-street parking at higher costs also increases the turnover rate and increases short trips into shops when people are confident, they can quickly find a space.
Research from City Observatory, Redfin, and Zillow has found significant correlations that houses with high walkability levels measured by Walk Score command a premium over otherwise similar homes in less walkable locations. In South Florida, there is a 20.2% premium for homes in walkable neighborhoods over car-dependent ones. Data show that the walkability premium has continued to increase over time.
Improving parking policies may be the cheapest, quickest, and most politically feasible way to achieve many social, economic, and environmental goals within the urban core. The increased pedestrian safety from wider sidewalks, safer protected mobility lanes, and less expensive parking options in garages would incentivize people to choose those options. Each of these ideas supports and sustains the others, creating a self-sustaining positive feedback loop.
A significant key to achieving this transformation is the ability for all people, including those who are unable to or prefer not to walk, to have convenient on-demand service. This is the Freebee Effect.