Free ride service at Virginia Beach Oceanfront could stop mid-summer

VIRGINIA BEACH — A free ride service at the Oceanfront could disappear just as summer is heating up. The city’s $1.2 million contract with Freebee ends June 30, and additional money to renew it was not included in the proposed fiscal year 2025 budget.

But a resort area transportation committee is making a last ditch effort to keep Freebee rolling, at least for a little while longer.

Members of the committee are concerned tourists and residents will be negatively impacted if the transit service ends in the middle of the peak season. Passengers can book free rides in electric Tesla Model X vehicles in Virginia Beach through the Freebee app. The Resort Advisory Commission sent a letter to the City Council in March with a request to extend Freebee’s contract.

The letter recommends adding three more months, to Sept. 30, with Freebee providing five vehicles at a cost of $165,984. The committee suggests that the money come from the Tourism Investment Program fund, a dedicated pot of money comprised of taxes on restaurant meals, hotel room stays, cigarettes and admissions.

The transportation committee also wants to work with city staff to study other small-scale transit options, also known as microtransit, in the resort area for the 2025 tourist season.

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The city originally funded a one-year pilot program with Freebee in June 2022 to alleviate traffic and parking issues in the resort area. It cost $550,000 for five vehicles and was paid for with the city’s parking enterprise fund, made up of parking fees.

In that first year, Freebee provided more than 90,000 free rides within a designated zone that mostly included the resort area. Rides are offered up to 42nd Street, as far south as General Booth Boulevard and west to Birdneck Road. Both residents and tourists used the service, according to ZIP code data Freebee collected. Some council members suggested it should be offered in other parts of the city, too, but no action to expand the service was taken.

Hampton Roads Transit separately runs trolley service at the Oceanfront during the summer season, but rides cost $2 one way.

Last May, the City Council approved a new one-year contract with Freebee, at the request of resort area stakeholders. It cost $1.2 million, with the money again coming from the Parking Enterprise Fund. Freebee provided 10 cars during the peak summer season and five during the rest of the year.

In February, City Manager Patrick Duhaney told council members that the parking fund won’t be able to support Freebee for another year. If the City Council wanted to renew it, the money would have to come from either the General Fund or the Tourism Investment Fund.

Mayor Bobby Dyer and Vice Mayor Rosemary Wilson said at that time they couldn’t support a renewal of Freebee’s contract in the upcoming budget.

Wilson said she has “a lot of misgivings about it.”

“I supported the pilot program in the beginning because of the parking issues,” said Wilson. “In the wintertime, we don’t have any parking issues.”

Duhaney ultimately left it out of the proposed budget. The council could extend the contract as part of its last minute budget allocations, known as reconciliation, scheduled for May 7. The council will vote to adopt the new budget May 14.

Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125,