By Jane Smith
The Downtowner open-air vehicle company has officially parted ways with the City of Delray Beach.
The transportation company rankled the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency when it reduced the number of vehicles it would provide for its point-to-point service from nine to seven and pulled its bid for the fixed operator contract that would replace the current trolley system.
The reason? The $5 million liability insurance policy that the CRA required for the transportation service.
“I feel like I’ve been had,” said Adam Frankel, CRA board member and a city commissioner. “The commission received a lot of criticism last September that we had run you out of town, when it was you who had changed your business model.”
CRA Chairwoman Shelly Petrolia agreed. “I thought the cars were already ordered,” she said.
“Our other contracts in Florida require only $1 million in insurance,” said Mike Monaco, chief technology officer for the Downtowner. “We underestimated the cost of the $5 million policy.”
For example, the Downtowner’s contract with the Tampa Downtown Partnership requires a $1 million policy, said Karen Kress, transportation and planning director for the group.
The Downtowner uses Teslas and Chevy Bolt electric vehicles in Tampa because their charges last longer than in the global electric motorcars that are popular in Delray Beach.
Because the Downtowner changed the terms of its $591,985 point-to-point bid, the Delray Beach CRA board members voted 6-0 to award that service to BeeFree Holdings. Board member Ryan Boylston had left the meeting before that vote was taken.
The BeeFree firm, based in Miami, operates under the name Freebee. The company had been ranked first by the selection committee when the original bids were considered.
The company provides point-to-point service in Coral Gables, where its contract calls for $3 million of liability coverage.
Jason Spiegel, managing partner of Freebee, declined to comment until the firm has a signed contract.
Like the Downtowner did in Delray Beach, Freebee will use GEM vehicles. The two firms also offer apps for smartphone users that promise to say when the vehicles will arrive.
But unlike the Downtowner, Freebee will have to find a place near downtown to store and charge its vehicles. The firm’s bid was $401,560 annually for five GEM vehicles with a sixth that will be wheelchair accessible.
The Downtowner has four electric vehicle charging sites adjacent to its offices on Northeast Fourth Avenue. Downtowner open-air vehicles have not operated in the city since October 2018.
With the Downtowner pulling out of the fixed-route proposal, the CRA voted 6-1 to award that contract to the competitor, First Transit, with Frankel voting no. He is opposed to the large vehicles.
First Transit, which provides drivers for the city’s diesel-fueled trolleys, will offer two Starcraft Allstar Ford vehicles that carry 20 passengers and are powered by propane gas. A backup vehicle will use diesel fuel, considered more polluting than propane gas.
The mini buses each will have a DriveCam running to record both sound and video, but First Transit wants to charge $70,000 extra to equip the vehicles with passenger counting and other technology. The firm’s initial $512,606 bid was accepted. The advanced technology system costs will be decided separately.
The departure of the Downtowner and subsequent agreement with First Transit for fixed-route transportation means the CRA will likely have its current diesel-fueled trolleys running past June 30. The point-to-point service, set to begin Sept. 1, also is delayed.
“That means another 100 days,” said Petrolia, also the Delray Beach mayor. “I’m not happy.”