Governor Jerry Brown last week signed a bill that will allow any city in San Diego County to move forward with a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV) plan.
SANDAG is working to implement this new kind of transportation system plan, allowed under SB 1151.
NEV’s are vehicles that travel 25 mph or slower, weigh 3000 pounds or less, and are zero-emissions vehicles.
"People often confuse these with a golf cart, but they're really quite a bit more substantial than a golf cart," said SANDAG Operations Director Ray Traynor. "In fact, the federal government has recognized this new vehicle type about 15 years ago."
This ride concept is not brand new to San Diego County. Some residents already own and use them in cities such as Coronado and Carlsbad. Downtown San Diego also offers a service using a NEV.
But now the state can put the plans into action.
"There's a new mode of transportation that's been on the verge of entering the marketplace for some time," said Traynor. "But the lack of legislation and the authority for cities to take advantage of this new mode has sort of hindered its implementation."
This is now changing with the implementation of SB 1151. SANDAG sponsored the legislation carried out by Senator Pat Bates, receiving support from organizations such as the Center for Sustainable Energy, the Electric Vehicle Association of San Diego and the Sierra Club.
"It becomes an opportunity for communities to think about how they can improve connectivity for the elderly and for those that may have challenges getting to and from appointments," said Traynor.
SANDAG will begin developing neighborhood plans for cities that are growing and want to add specified roadways for NEVs. For instance, Otay Ranch is constructing a network of roadways for these vehicles.
"Now cities can decide if they want to build a separate network of roadways or integrate with current roads," said Traynor. "This provides greater local connectivity to give people more transportation choices."
Currently, The Free Ride "FRED" offers just that -- a free ride anywhere across downtown San Diego during set hours. The service uses about 20 neighborhood electric vehicles and is working to reduce emissions downtown.
"TFR offers a number of benefits," said Co-founder of The Free Ride, Alexander Esposito. "Complimentary rides to people who might not want to walk or would otherwise take a car, reduction in GHG (greenhouse gases), reduced traffic by preventing people from driving and parking for short-distance trips, reduced congestion by promoting alternate forms of mass transit."
Esposito said they are working with Civic San Diego and advertising partners. You can currently hail a ride by downloading their app here.
The Free Ride operates Monday – Thursday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.