Anaheim debuts all-electric microtransit service
The City of Anaheim and Anaheim Resort Transportation launched FRAN—Free Ride Around (the) Neighborhood—an app-based, microtransit system using electric vehicles. The FRAN fleet of 10 all-electric Polaris GEM cars connects destinations in Anaheim’s Center City area. The shared vehicles arrive on demand via FRAN’s smartphone application. The app contains points-of-interest information, and future editions are planned to update driving visitors in real time on where to park near FRAN pick-up spots.
FRAN is a free, electric-vehicle service accessed through app technology and operated by a public transportation agency, not by a private company.
“FRAN is place-based microtransit,” said Anaheim Director of Community & Economic Development John Woodhead. “It integrates with pedestrian, auto, and bus mobility in Center City, which has developed into a constellation of booming retail, restaurant, residential, office, and entertainment destinations such as The Packing House and Center Street. Just as importantly, FRAN is an expression of the city’s personality, with colorful vehicle designs rooted in Anaheim’s history and culture.”
FRAN does not follow fixed routes but rather visits several fixed stops based on riders’ pick-up and destination requests within the Center City area. FRAN is wheelchair accessible, and two vehicles will be retrofitted with a wheelchair-accessible ramp. Operating hours are seven days a week, generally between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m./midnight. The 10 Polaris GEM e6 vehicles accommodate a driver and five passengers, and its drivers are knowledgeable docents of the Center City area, much like travel guides (see more on the Polaris GEM vehicles below).
While FRAN is an acronym for Free Ride Around (the) Neighborhood, its identity is inspired by Francisca Avila Rimpau, a founding mother of the historic Anaheim Colony, and of the entire Southern California region. Francisca’s 15 children were among the real estate developers, educators, and movers and shakers in early Los Angeles and Anaheim society. Francisca’s daughter Matilda was the first female graduate of Anaheim High School. The 10 FRAN vehicles are named after 10 of Francisca’s daughters and granddaughters, and each FRAN car is branded with an illustration of Francisca.
Polaris is one of Anaheim’s most successful manufacturers, and the Polaris GEM is claimed to be the first commercially produced street-legal, low-speed vehicle in the U.S. Its passenger and utility electric vehicles produce zero emissions and offer low operating costs.
FRAN is operated by Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART), a public transportation agency, and funded by grants and property-owner assessments. FRAN drivers are provided by consultants We Drive U and the FRAN app is developed by DoubleMap.
“FRAN’s microtransit approach combines the convenience of private, app-based hailing services, such as Uber and Lyft, with the familiarity of public transportation,” said ART Executive Director Diana Kotler. “This is one of the most exciting developments in public transportation. Rather than forcing riders to follow our transit schedule, we follow theirs.”
The FRAN app will have full technical integration with ART bus service, including through a new planned ART app. The apps will let riders plan trips to 80 destinations in Anaheim and Orange County served by ART. These include Anaheim’s resort and convention destinations and to ARTIC, The Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, which combines rail, bus, taxi, and other services, and which is a hub for major destinations such as Angel Stadium and Honda Center.
“Traditionally, transit modes have operated separately,” said Kotler. “But the future lies in connecting them as neighborhood-related services. Microtransit is the flexible, place-specific mobility that will interface with upcoming modes, including autonomous vehicles, flying taxis, or whatever transportation experts can imagine.”