New app to offer free rides in downtown Tampa

- The legislative session in Tallahassee has officially ended, but a statewide policy for ride share services didn’t make the cut.

The house approved its version of a bill that would regulate services like Uber and Lyft and there was promise the senate would do the same Friday.

They had two plans on the table, ready for a vote, but it never made the agenda.

Now, the Hillsborough public transportation commission is referring back to its rule book, and is re-issuing tickets against Uber and Lyft drivers.

With the future of Uber and Lyft still up in the air in Tampa Bay, a new ride-sharing service prepares to hit the streets.

The app is called Downtowner. With the push of a button, you can get a free ride anywhere in downtown Tampa aboard a six-seater, open-air vehicle.

The Downtown Tampa Partnership said it hopes to launch the Downtowner soon.

Karen Kress is with the Tampa Downtown Partnership. She spoke to FOX 13 News about transportation in downtown Tampa. She pointed out, there are bikes, boats, and busses, but something is still missing.

"It's just those short little trips that kind of fall through the cracks," Kress explained.

Dining and bar hopping downtown is spaced out, from Channelside to the Ulele restaurant along the river. Many say hart buses are not convenient for a night on the town.

That's where the Downtowner app comes in. Think Uber, but without the cost.

Downtown workers, residents and visitors can hail a ride on one several six-seater, electric-powered vehicles. And consider the driver your tour guide.

"They know where the hot spots are, where the events are, so the drivers, they're going to know a lot about the community," Kress said.

The plan is for a ride to arrive in 10 minutes or less. The Tampa Downtown Partnership plans to run the free service from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 11 to 11 weekends, but that could change.

"The beauty of the app is that we'll be able to collect a lot of data, so we'll be able to ramp up more vehicles in service during busy times and then scale back when there's not as much need," Kress explained.

Unlike other ride-sharing services, these vehicles will not need a taxi license, since the rides are free.

With no regulations set at the state level during Friday’s close of session, city officials plan to crack down on Uber and Lyft for operating illegally starting Monday. It's unclear how long this could last. The downtown partnership hopes to fill that gap in service.

"We're not really inventing anything new here. It's just kind of an innovative way to deliver the service," she said.

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