If you spend any amount of time on Balboa Peninsula, you’ll eventually run into a strange-looking vehicle scuttling along the streets. It’s larger than a golf cart, smaller than an open-air jeep, quieter than a motorcycle, louder than a full-size electric car and it’s completely free to ride anywhere on the 2.69 miles of peninsula coastline.
That can’t be true, you say, shaking your head at the incredulity of such gratuitous Newport Beach transportation.
Oh but it is true, we respond, as nicely as possible so as not to offend. The funny, little automobile is part of a service called the Downtowner, which can be accessed via mobile app right from your phone. Simply download the app—search “Downtowner” in your phone’s app store—request a ride any day of the week from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. and within minutes, your very own compact electric vehicle arrives at the exact spot where you summoned the pick-up.
Much like a hyper-local (and complimentary) Uber, the Downtowner has been shuttling residents and visitors of Balboa Peninsula wherever they’ve asked to go since 2015. Other cities with their own Downtowner service include: Aspen, CO; Tampa, FL; Delray Beach, FL; and Boca Raton, FL.
The idea for Downtowner began as the brainchild of three 2009 college grads from South Florida, frequent taxi riders who knew there had to be a more fitting (and frankly, more fun) option for hopping from one downtown locale to the next.
“I thought a company specializing solely in downtown transportation, maybe a square two miles, would be the ticket to fast, courteous and community-minded transport,” Stephen Murray, Downtowner Inc. co-founder, explained to The Atlantic Current last year.
Murray, along with business partners Travis Gleason and Ryan Spaargaren, started the on-demand ride service in 2012, just three years after graduating college. “We were at a friend’s house, probably 10 blocks from Atlantic Avenue [in Boca Raton] and were going out for dinner and drinks,” Murray told The Atlantic Current. “We called a cab, which took forever to find us, the driver was pretty impersonal, and the car was certainly not fun to ride in. I thought to myself, ‘There must be a better way.’”
And there was. Four years later, the Downtowner has made its mark on major coastal cities across America. Right here in Newport Beach, it’s also changing the transport game, providing beach-goers with a quick, convenient and pretty cool option for getting around town … completely free of charge.
By: Melissa Marni