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Morning Report: That Free Downtown Transit Service Is Awfully Expensive

FRED San Diego

FRED offers free rides in the downtown San Diego area. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

For just over two years, people who live, work or visit downtown have been able to take advantage of Free Ride Everywhere Downtown, or FRED, a quasi-public transportation service like Lyft or Uber within downtown that uses electric golf carts.

But the service isn’t really free – Civic San Diego spends about $1 million per year on it with public funds from parking revenue collected downtown.

And it turns out, it’s pretty expensive, compared with other transit services, as Andrew Keatts covered in a new story. Since it debuted in August 2016, it’s cost about $6.67 per ride. This year it’s on track to cost closer to $6 per ride. For comparison, the Metropolitan Transit System comes in at about $2.71 per ride.

Jarret Walker, an international transit planner, said the cost per rider is “dismal compared to conventional fixed-route transit running in a high-density downtown.”

“So the case against this thing on ridership and cost-effectiveness grounds is pretty basic math,” he said. “If someone wants to argue for it on other grounds, that’s fine.”

Colin Parent, a transit advocate, said city leaders could find a better way to spend the money to improve mobility downtown.

But those behind the service are standing by it. They argue ridership is growing, and will continue to do so as downtown handles are large share of new housing, jobs and visitors in the city. And while transportation is in a period of flux, it’s important to be experimental and flexible, they argue.

Another Day, More Bad News for the Water Department

Nepotism may have played a role in the city of San Diego’s water department woes, Voice of San Diego’s Ry Rivard reports.

Years ago, auditors began looking into whether city workers were helping their friends and family gets jobs at the department after getting an anonymous tip through the city’s fraud hotline.

The city auditor’s office looked at 120 laborers hired between December 2012 and July 2015 and found that 41 of those people should not have been hired.

On Wednesday, one of the water department’s assistant directors said the audit resulted in the department slowing down hiring to make sure they were following the rules.

This previously undisclosed hiring freeze may have contributed to poor customer service in the understaffed department.

Why this matters: The water department has been under the city’s microscope after a barrage of customer complaints about unusually high water bills from customers started piling up. The latest issue is part of the city’s work to understand what went wrong at the water department and why.

Mayor Postpones Vote on Skydiving Center-Turned-Homeless Facility

A City Council vote on a contract with the nonprofit chosen to help transform a shuttered indoor skydiving center into a service center for homeless San Diegans has been postponed.

Greg Block, a spokesman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer, said city officials nixed a scheduled Sept. 18 vote in hopes of perfecting the contract with Family Health Centers of San Diego, the group chosen to operate the facility.

“As we have been working through the contract language we felt we needed more time to ensure we are adequately fulfilling the vision for the facility and the real-time needs of our most vulnerable residents, as well as anticipating and mitigating community concerns as we have done with other programs like the storage facility and bridge shelters,” Block wrote in a statement.

Block declined to say when the vote might be rescheduled but said the mayor remains committed to the project.

The canceled vote is the latest setback for a controversial project aimed at helping homeless San Diegans navigate a complex service system. Earlier this year, the city rushed to buy the former skydiving facility pushed by a prominent real estate financier and Faulconer supporter. The city’s rapid purchase and the still largely undefined concept for the project have drawn a hail of questions ever since.

More on SoccerCity and SDSU West

We’ve gotten a lot of reaction and feedback from Scott Lewis’ in-depth piece on how close the investors behind SoccerCity and top management at SDSU came to a deal and how their partnership unraveled.

  • Lewis was on Darren Smith’s show on Mighty 1090 Wednesday to discuss the story.
  • U-T columnist Michael Smolens examined the finances behind the SDSU Mission Valley plan — and specifically the claim that students would foot the bill of a new stadium for SDSU football.

Roque de la Fuente’s Weird Hobby

One of the largest landowners on San Diego’s border with Mexico, Roque de la Fuente, has now run for U.S. Senate in nine states. You may remember him from his long, bitter, expensive litigation with the city of San Diego that at one point threatened to set the city back $100 million.

Vice caught up with him to figure out what he’s doing in this entertaining video. Apparently it’s quite easy to run for Senate. Rhode Island just voted, and he got 12.3 percent.

News Roundup

  • Del Mar Fairgrounds will put a temporary halt on gun shows. (Associated Press)
  • Federal agents on Tuesday raided a suspected drug lab in Mission Hills and seized large amounts of an extract often used to make marijuana edibles. (Union-Tribune)
  • The city’s assistant auditor will take over as interim auditor after longtime City Auditor Eduardo Luna steps down later this month. (City News Service)
  • The Reader put out its annual issue dedicated to hamburgers in which a handful of writers detail their experiences tasting dozens of burgers across the region. And CityBeat’s Fall Arts issue is filled with upcoming arts events and stories.
  • Eleven school districts across the county will ask voters to approve school bonds this November. (NBC 7)
  • A report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and environmental and human rights groups says existing border infrastructure has caused “environmental devastation” and recommends Congress reject funding for a border wall. (Courthouse News Service)
  • Embattled El Cajon City Councilman Ben Kalasho was served with a lawsuit Tuesday when he appeared at his first City Council meeting in nearly two months. (NBC 7)
  • In August 1985, the city celebrated the grand opening of the Horton Plaza Mall. CBS News 8 posted video from the opening as part of a throwback series.

Hidden Gem Alert

Check out this free, little-known Carlsbad museum a San Diego Redditor recently discovered. It’s called the Craftsmanship Museum and its collection includes tiny models of buildings and vehicles, plus other carefully crafted objects.

The Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt and Kinsee Morlan, and edited by Sara Libby.

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