Long Beach is launching a free micro-shuttle program that it hopes will help people get around Downtown and its southeastern waterfront with fewer car trips and less time searching for parking, something the city hopes will stimulate the local economy.

The City Council voted Tuesday night to approve a two-year contract with Circuit Transit Inc., which had formerly operated as The Free Ride and serviced Downtown during a 2018 pilot project.

The $1.6 million contract will provide service in two areas: Downtown, Alamitos Beach and the waterfront; and Belmont Shore, Naples and Alamitos Bay Landing, with service to the 2nd and PCH shopping center.

Downtown’s service area will range from Magnolia Avenue to Cherry Avenue and the Belmont Shore area will run from about Livingston Avenue to the border with Seal Beach. The rides will be free of charge.

Shuttles are expected to begin operating next month, likely toward the end of October, according to a Public Works spokesperson.

A screenshot of the areas that the city says its new micro-shuttle service will provide rides to.

A ride can be hailed in person but also through Circuit’s mobile app, but in order to get a ride on the six-person all-electric vehicles, a person has to be within the two identified service areas. The city anticipates that there will be four to five vehicles available during service hours with one ADA-accessible vehicle in each service area.

Initial hours of operation are scheduled for Thursday through Sunday. Service in both areas will run from 4 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and weekend service will begin at noon and end at 10 p.m. on Saturdays and 6 p.m. on Sundays. Public Works Director Eric Lopez said those hours could be adjusted depending on the type of demand the city sees.

“This is the start but we look for the program to evolve as we get experience,” Lopez said.

Getting a shuttle to service the area had been made a priority by Councilmember Suzie Price, who represents the Belmont Shore area. In 2019 she asked the city to look at options as struggling retailers along Second Street complained that the lack of parking paired with the soon-to-open 2nd and PCH shopping center could make business worse.

The plan to fund a shuttle service was ultimately put on hold in 2021 as parking meter revenue in Belmont Shore, a source of funding that was being looked at to pay for the shuttle service, dried up because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stimulating the local economy was a focus of city leaders coming out of the pandemic, and officials identified a shuttle program in the host of recovery act projects the city intended to fund with federal and state pandemic relief aid.

The contract with Circuit is being paid for with $1.1 million in COVID-19 relief funds and about $450,000 in county transportation revenue.

Could a free shuttle from 2nd & PCH project help struggling retailers in Belmont Shore?

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at jason@lbpost.com or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.