By Maysen Marolda
The free shuttle service known as the Downtowner, which that Global Electric Motorcars vehicles west of Pacific Avenue and between city borders to the north and south daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. ended this month. The end of this service is detrimental to the community because it assisted many Manhattan Beach residents in getting around the city, without forcing them to open up their wallets.
Last month, the City Council chose not to advance with a proposal to expand the shuttle service to the remainder of the city at a cost of $681,000, and declined to offer direction to continue the current service. Downtowner has been operated on a free pilot service beginning February of 2017; the Downtowner was funded solely through advertising, according to the city council website, and so it could not continue to function without financial assistance from the city.
According to Downtowner co-owner Jake Allsop, even though the advertising business model was sustainable for the 10 months it was in service, it was not something the company was interested in continuing because they would not have been able to expand the company. Thus, the company was unable to grow under the advertising model, and needed to ask the City Council to assist them in expanding their company. It is unjustifiable that the City Council expressed unwillingness to contribute city funds because the city of Manhattan Beach is the one who asked Downtowner to provide their service in the first place.
According to Councilmember Steve Napolitano, the City Council has monetary demands from entities such as MBUSD to consider, among others. That its current business model did not work is why City Council was unable to see Downtowner as a long-term solution to residents who did not have other transporation means. Even though it is imperative that MBUSD receives a large enough portion of the city’s budget to fund education, money should be distributed to other areas as well in order to ensure that Manhattan Beach is flourishing in many aspects that do not relate to activities similar to the Downtowner or other ride-share or transportation services.
In addition to the fact that the Downtowner was economically advantageous for Manhattan Beach residents as rides were free, the ride service was also an environmentally friendly option, executive director of the Downtown Manhattan Beach Business and Professionals Association Kelly Stroman said. The service’s GEM e6 vehicles released zero emissions, which are more environmentally friendly cars within the taxi cab and Uber services which run on gas.
The elimination of the Downtowner puts the city back at square one in terms of confronting issues of parking and congestion in downtown Manhattan Beach, Stroman said. Therefore, it is regrettable that the service was discontinued because residents will be forced to drive themselves downtown again, making it harder to find parking in the limited amount of spaces that currently exist around downtown.
Another benefit of the Downtowner was that, unlike to other ride sharing companies that do not allow customers under 18, it accepted passengers as young as 13, Allsop said. This aspect of Downtowner benefitted many teenagers in the city because without a license, it can often be hard for people under 16 years of age to find rides, which can be detrimental if they have activities that they need to get to.
According to Stroman, from Feb. through Oct. the Downtowner carried 51,000 passengers in nearly 23,000 trips, which represents a remarkable success. It is evident that the Downtowner service was utilized by many Manhattan Beach residents in order to complete nearby trips for a lower price, so it is unfortunate money could not be found to fund the service.
Although it would have cost upwards of $600,000 to continue and revamp the Downtowner service, the city should have at least considered funding the service because of its numerous benefits. The service was economically and environmentally advantageous for residents, and it catered to teenagers.