New Pacific Beach on-demand shuttle starts mid-July, will be free first 3 months

FRED, short for Free Ride Everywhere Downtown
The new shuttle planned for Pacfic Beach will look and operate much like FRED, short for Free Ride Everywhere Downtown, a shuttle that has served downtown for nearly a decade.
(Courtesy City of San Diego)

Goals are increasing use of new trolley to access beach, easing parking congestion, boosting access to coastal attractions


A new on-demand shuttle called the Beach Bug will carry people all over Pacific Beach starting in mid-July, freeing up parking spaces near coastal attractions and making it more convenient to take mass transit to the beach.

Rides on the shuttle’s four electric cars will be free during the first three months of service to build momentum during the busy summer season. Riders will then have to start paying $2.50, but that will cover unlimited rides for an entire day.

Similar to the popular FRED shuttle that has served downtown for nearly a decade, the Beach Bug will respond to requests made by smartphone app. The shuttles can also be hailed down for a ride as they drive by.

To encourage use by people riding the new Blue Line trolley connecting Old Town to La Jolla and University City, rides to and from the Balboa Avenue trolley station will remain free after the three-month introduction period.

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The primary motivation for the Beach Bug is the new trolley line, which brings people roughly 2 miles away from the beach. That’s close, but not close enough for most people to walk the rest of the way.

Charlie Nieto, president of the Pacific Beach Town Council, said Thursday that community leaders hope the shuttle will boost use of the trolley by people trying to get to Pacific Beach restaurants, bars and other businesses.

Community leaders and residents are mostly upbeat about the new shuttle, he said.

“It’s a cool new way to get around,” Nieto said. And it seems unlikely to damage the small-town feel that most residents want to preserve, he said.

The shuttle is being funded by $175,000 in parking meter revenue and a $359,000 federal grant being directed to the project by the county’s regional planning agency, the San Diego Association of Governments.

The parking meter money will come from new meters planned for much of PB’s coastal business district, Garnet Avenue between the beach and Fanuel Street and adjacent areas on Cass Street, Bayard Street and Mission Boulevard.

Hundreds of new meters will be installed to encourage more frequent turnover of vehicles in prime parking spots. Those spots now have two-hour restrictions that historically have been only loosely enforced.

Nieto said installation of the meters has been delayed several times and that he’s unsure when it will happen, raising questions about funding for the shuttle.

The exact starting date for the shuttle is unclear. Initially planned to start July 14, city and SANDAG officials said Thursday that they are reconsidering that date for a variety of reasons. Both agencies said the most specific they could be about a start date is “mid-July.”

Parking meter revenue will help fund the new shuttle connecting the Balboa Avenue trolley station to the shore.

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Nieto said it’s important for the shuttle to begin running before the Kate Sessions Park weekly Concerts on the Green series begins July 23. The shuttle can conveniently take people from the trolley station to the park, he said.

The shuttle will serve all of Pacific Beach, from Crown Point in the south to the border with La Jolla and Bird Rock in the north. It will not serve Mission Beach or Clairemont.

The shuttles, which can’t travel faster than 25 mph, will have space for beach gear, including body boards.

Two bus lines, routes 8 and 27, run from the Balboa Avenue station to the beach. And beach-bound trolley riders can already get a free transfer to those buses.

After the three-month introduction period, the $2.50 that Beach Bug riders will pay for all-day use is the same price bus riders without a free trolley transfer will pay for a one-way fare.

The shuttle’s hours will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays.

Resident surveys helped shape the operations of the new shuttle, officials said.

A majority of people surveyed said they would be willing to wait between 10 and 15 minutes for a shuttle and would be willing to pay $2 to $3 per trip.

Officials said they will evaluate early usage of the shuttle and probably make changes. Key factors will include number of passengers, average trip length, wait times, service ratings and impacts on trolley use.