If you visit San Diego – You must Meet FRED.

You are on a great vacation, visiting San Diego. Your hotel is located downtown, maybe in the Gaslamp Quarter, the entertainment heart of the city. It is the first day your family wants to tour the USS Midway. How do you get there? 

Walking is always an option. However, if you have little ones or your parents are along, the walk may be beyond them. After all, it is about a mile. Public transportation is an option, but setting up the app for a ride or two can be a pain. Your first option is probably ride-sharing, like Uber or Lyft.

But wait. There is another option. FRED is ready for the task. FRED stands for Free Ride Everywhere Downtown. It is precisely that: a free ride. But you may say there is no such thing as a free anything. You’d be right. But the city pays for FRED using taxes on parking facilities in the downtown area.

Do I have your attention? A free ride service sounds too good to be true. Of course, there are some limitations, and some might consider them drawbacks. Before diving into the nuts and bolts of using FRED, let’s step back to learn more about the why and how behind the service.

FRED is part of Cricut Transportation, a company started by two partners in 2011, providing beach shuttle rides in the Hamptons. They have expanded to forty locations in eight states. Not all services are free, like in San Diego, and not all are as extensive. But all of the services use all-electric vehicles. This reduces emissions, carbon footprint, and operating expenses,

Cricut handles the day-to-day operations of FRED. They provide the vehicles, people, and infrastructure. They also provide the app, which makes the whole service go. Yep, just like Uber FRED has an app for your phone. You use the app to request a ride and track the car as it approaches.

The cars can carry up to six passengers, with limited space for luggage or packages. When we rode, many of the vehicles did not have windows, just some clear plastic flaps that may or may not be closed. While San Diego has some of the best weather in the country, winter nights can be a bit chilly in an open vehicle. According to the drivers, none of the cars have heaters.

The cars are very roomy and easy to get out of and into. Every driver we had was very friendly and proud of their city. FRED is not just for tourists. Residents use it to do errands, go to dinner, or work. For our first limitation, FRED is a shared service. This means two things: the rides may not be direct as they must pick up and drop off other riders. And secondly, there may be other riders with you. Neither was an issue with us, but it may bother some people.

Let’s look at how to use FRED. You will need to download an app on your phone. I have an Android phone, so I went to the Google Play Store. Search for “Ride Circuit.” Make sure the app is from the Circuit Team. I am including a copy of the app icon.

Circuit App Icon

When you open the app, it will use your current location as a starting point. If you are not yet in San Diego, you may get an error message that the service is not open or the pickup location is not in the service area. Don’t worry. When you get to San Diego, it will work.

I am including a screenshot from the app. I am not in San Diego, so it can’t show my location. However, the shot does give you a rough idea of FRED’s service area. Remember, the ‘D’ is for Downtown. It is a limited service area and doesn’t include Old Town, Balboa Park, or the airport.

There is a service map on the Circuit website. It is a Google Map, and you can zoom and scroll to get a better idea of where you can use FRED. When you are ready to get a ride, open the app. It should be able to find your location. Before you use that location, you need to check a couple of things.

First, if you are inside a building, like your hotel, it might indicate something other than the street you will be waiting on. This happened to us the second time I used it. We were in a store when I requested a ride. Not looking, I accepted the pickup location. When we went out to wait, I realized the location was a block away, on the other side of the store. My tip is to wait until you are near where you want to be picked up.

The second applies to a small area in the Gaslamp Quarter. One street (5th Avenue) is closed from the afternoon until after the bars close. If the street is closed, FRED can go there. Our hotel was on 5th, and the concierge told us to choose a restaurant on the nearest cross street as our pickup point. Start typing the name in the top line (pickup point), and FRED can find the spot.

Circuit App Screenshot

Now you need to tell FRED where you want to go. It knows many popular places by name, like the USS Midway Museum. Or you can type the address. Next, FRED will look for a ride, just like the paid car services. There are a small number of vehicles in the fleet. The last number I saw was twenty. You may have to wait for a ride. Also, remember that the rides are shared rides. When the car arrives, it may already have people. You pick up other riders or drop some off. This can add some time to your ride. I don’t think I would use FRED if I had an appointment with a fixed time unless I did not mind getting there early and waiting around.

OK, you ordered the ride, and they took you where you wanted to go- and all at no cost to you. After you leave the vehicle, the app will ask if you would like to tip the driver. It is up to you if and how much you want to tip. Just remember, so far, there has been no cost to you. If you plan on tipping, you must add a credit card to your account in the app.

As I said, if you are heading to San Diego, you really need to get to know FRED. Roomy, environmentally friendly vehicles, nice drivers, and free rides. What else do you need when visiting the city?