A Santa Monica Free Ride  shuttle roles down Ocean Avenue. (Daniel Archuleta)

A Santa Monica Free Ride shuttle roles down Ocean Avenue. (Daniel Archuleta)

DOWNTOWN — With all of the complex transportation planning in the city — incoming Expo Light Rail, multi-million dollar Big Blue Bus system, a bike-sharing program in the works — who would have thought a fleet of fancy golf carts would be so popular?

Recently, the Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) partnered with an existing shuttle service to provide free local rides to hotel guests and residents.

The Santa Monica Shuttle allows guests of Shutters, The Double Tree, and Loews to call for on-demand rides within the tourism-heavy parts of the city.

“Part of it was we weren’t really fulfilling the promise to people that if you don’t bring a car you’ll be able to get around,” said CVB President and CEO Misti Kerns.

Santa Monica Free Ride started as a four-shuttle fleet last summer. Now, they have eight shuttles, including three sponsored by the CVB. Each shuttle offers about 100 rides per day, said founder Jason Bagley.

The five non CVB-sponsored carts are available to anyone who flags them down. Anyone can also catch a free ride on one of the CVB shuttles when returning from a trip.

You might have seen carts topped with a bunch of plastic coconuts advertising Vita Coco coconut water.

“It’s funny but understandable that we often get asked, ‘what’s the catch?’”  Bagley said. “There is no catch. The sponsors, along with getting unique exposure, are paying your way.”

Tips, Bagley said, are always appreciated.

“They’re electric, they’re open air, and they’re fun,” Kerns said. “As that started to pick up and we started to hear good comments about it, we thought it might be a good option for some of the hotels.”

CVB’s research shows that nearly 80 percent of overnight visitors are walking, not driving, around the area.

“With the different construction projects going on around the city it can be a little daunting,” Kerns said. “If you started to walk around Ocean Avenue a few months ago, depending what side of the street you’re on, it’s not as easy of a walk. When Free Ride came into the community it was really good timing because we were hearing comments from visitors and residents saying, ‘I just don’t know if I can walk from here to here anymore because of all the work that’s going on.’”

Kerns said that, thanks to the popularity of the rides, other hotels are considering buying into the program.

Even taxi drivers are on-board with the shuttles.

“I personally don’t have a problem with it,” said Sandy Clare, a driver with Taxi Taxi. “Most cabbies, they don’t want those rides. If you’re sitting at a hotel for an hour and a cart comes and scoops those guys up — it’s only going to be a $5 ride anyway. If you were waiting, you’re kind of glad.”

 

dave@smdp.com

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