This weekend, a service called FreeBee will start offering free short-distance rides in Brickell. The electric cars are paid for by advertisers in exchange for branding exposure.
The service's fleet of 20 electric vehicles has already been operating for two years in Miami Beach.
FreeBee director of public affairs Linnea Rae calls the service a "marketing asset for prospective advertisers" that "caters to consumers by giving free rides around the community."
Various clients -- ranging from the Marlins to VitaCoco -- pay to have cars in the fleet fully outfitted in their branding. The cars feature large, high-definition television screens, audio systems, and lights.
The drivers also serve as brand ambassadors who explain the ride service and the advertiser's product to the passengers. They make their money off of tips. If a passenger does not tip, the driver is not compensated for that ride.
Managing partner Jason Spiegel says this is because the drivers are "independent volunteers." The company's 30-plus drivers are covered by the company's $3 million insurance policy.
According to Spiegel, drivers tell passengers that "tips are appreciated, but not mandatory."
FreeBee's expansion comes after a summer marked with fines against ride-for-hire companies like Lyft and Uber. In July, the Miami-Dade County commission voted to give the initial OK to legalize these services.
FreeBee, much like Lyft and Uber, would need certain licenses if considered a for-hire service. Those licenses are based on whether the driver is considered compensated for the ride.
Miami-Dade County's licensing manager Raul Gonzalez says requesting tips is a form of compensation, and receiving compensation without a license is a violation.
He says if a passenger volunteers to tip without any encouragement from the company, then the service does not require a license. If they suggest the passenger tips, then it could potentially be considered compensation, which requires a license.
Gonzalez says this aspect of regulation is difficult to enforce, but services found in to be violation -- that is, operating for compensation without proper licensure -- can be fined up to $2,000: $1,000 for the vehicle and another $1,000 for the driver.
"It's a free ride. These drivers are not out there to make money but to volunteer their time or provide service to the community," Spiegel says. "If a community member wants to go out of their way and provide them a tip for their time or for whatever they did, it's up to the driver if they want to accept it or not."
Spiegel says the company does hold transportation licenses on Miami Beach and in the city, as well as marketing and advertising permits. He adds that he believes FreeBee is a non-hire transportation company, and therefore not in violation of any regulations.
Rae says she does not consider FreeBee's ride service competition for the taxi industry because Freebee only focuses on short distance travel.
"Where as if you got in a a taxi and wanted to go a couple blocks, it's not worth the fare for them," she says.
But Diego Feliciano, president of the South Florida Taxicab Association, says that for taxi drivers in the main corridor -- including Miami Beach and Brickell -- short rides are not a problem because they can pick up another job close by. He doesn't have a problem with FreeBee operating, "as long as they have to abide by the same existing regulations that we do," he says.
FreeBee will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Brickell at 6 p.m. Friday to celebrate the company's expansion downtown. According to the Facebook event page, City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado will attend.