By REBECCA TURNER
Like many out of state students who left their cars at home, I am a big
fan of Uber, but I hate paying for it — especially when I’m not going far from campus. Being the athletic person that I am, my Sunday afternoon run ended with me eating pizza at Eddie and Sam’s in downtown and no desire to walk back to campus. So, I turned to Downtowner, a free, but limited, alternative to companies like Uber and Lyft.
While the cars may look like stretched out, glorified golf carts, their insides are more like normal cars — with seatbelts. They also have touch screens that allow you to explore what is available in the area as well as paper pamphlets for the less technologically savvy.
The app, which just became available in Tampa this fall, is currently available for iPhone and Android devices. It’s free thanks to the Tampa Downtown Partnership and other supporters of Downtowner.
Downtowner works a lot like Uber, asking you to put in your pickup and dropoff location. The app allows you to choose your current location, home (you can set this as UT in your profile) or any address within the service area. Afterwards, you can rate your driver, much like you would on Uber.
Downtowner is also wheelchair accessible, as long as this option is selected before requesting your ride. These rides, however, can only fit the wheelchair user and up to
three others, as opposed to the traditional five. If your passenger number exceeds that, another person in your group will also have to request a ride.
So far, Downtowner has had 579,422 passengers across five cities. To compare, in some larger cities Lyft pulls in over 500,000 riders per month, according to Forbes. Downtowner is small scale in comparison. The app is also currently functional in Delray Beach and Boca Raton in Florida, as well as Aspen, Colorado and Newport Beach, California.
If you’ve ever wanted to explore the city without walking around aimlessly or racking up Uber bills, now’s your chance. The app’s “Explore” section lets you search for places to go to under a variety of categories, including dining, bars and even museums. Users can see how many fellow passengers have been picked up from and/ or dropped off at any given destination in this section. Downtowner also has options for hotels and transportation, which makes it a great app to share with visiting friends and family.
A feature yet to be fully utilized outside of the California location, but that remains promising is the Downtowner app’s “Deals” section. Other cities working with the app have discounts and freebies for Downtowner passengers.
After you have entered your pickup and dropoff locations, the app will flash the expected wait time, though it won’t be as fast as Uber. I waited about 12 minutes for my driver, as opposed to the usual 5 I wait with Uber. Plan ahead and expect to wait for a little while, but enjoy that extra cash in your bank account — or maybe splurge a little more and get another drink at dinner since Downtowner can take you back safely.
Downtowner does only have a limited service area, with the boundaries going from campus to a little past The Florida Museum and from E. Scott Street past Amalie Arena, so don’t expect to use it to hit SoHo or Ybor. But, it could help you avoid the Uber Eats delivery fee on downtown restaurants like Taco Bus and Bavaro’s, if you don’t mind taking a ride.
Another plus of Downtowner, if you are fortunate enough to have a car here in Tampa, is that it allows you to avoid having to find and pay for parking should you want to check out the Tampa Theatre, the Straz Center or someplace else.
If you are worried about your carbon footprint, Downtowner has got you covered there too. The Downtowner vehicles are environmentally friendly as all are 100 percent electric.
Currently, Downtowner’s Tampa hours are Monday-Friday, 6 a.m. – 11 p.m. and 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. on weekends.
Rebecca Turner can be reached at email@example.com