The Coast News Group
Circuit, an electric vehicle shuttle program, is returning to downtown Oceanside. Courtesy photo
Circuit, an electric vehicle shuttle program, is returning to downtown Oceanside. Courtesy photo

No longer free, Circuit shuttle program returns to Oceanside

OCEANSIDE — Circuit, a popular, free shuttle program that served downtown last year, is coming back for another two years with a small fee.

The Oceanside City Council on May 17 approved a two-year agreement with Circuit, an electric vehicle shuttle to operate in downtown Oceanside.

The shuttle service ran for six months last year, from June to December 2022, as a pilot project that received “overwhelmingly positive feedback from residents, visitors and businesses,” according to staff, which is why the program has returned for a longer stay.

“Without any paid advertising and not even having the shuttles wrapped yet – they were just blank, white shuttles driving around – we had 1,800 riders the first week and ended up with an average of over 7,000 per month, which is quite high in comparison with other cities where Circuit operates,” said Michelle Geller, the city’s economic development manager.

Circuit operates in other Southern California cities like San Diego, Huntington Beach and Anaheim.

Of the 846 riders that responded to the pilot program’s survey, 62% were Oceanside residents, and half were over the age of 50. The survey also found that 88% of riders used the shuttle to visit local restaurants and 67% said it helped address parking challenges.

The EV shuttles helped the city save over 1,600 gallons of gas and 18 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, Geller added.

The shuttles offer up to five passenger seats plus a driver, each complete with a seatbelt and their own door to exit the vehicle. Services will run as far north as the Harbor, south to Vista Way west of Interstate 5, with the exception of newly extended services to the Eastside neighborhood.

Staff is also looking into extending the shuttle’s services to include the Country Club Senior Center as well following a request from the public.

Circuit will cost approximately $573,000 per year to run its services. The city used $321,361 of its American Rescue Plan Act dollars to pay for the pilot program last year. Meanwhile, this year, the city is using $223,000 from the general fund as well as an anticipated $250,000 per year from the San Diego Association of Governments and another $100,000 per year from Visit Oceanside.

City staff has also proposed to implement a small $3 fee for individual riders with a $6 cap for groups that are expected to offset city costs by $114,000 annually. Riders will request and pay for rides through a mobile application on their cell phones.

Councilmember Eric Joyce proposed to drop the fee for riders after pointing out that the pilot program survey found that riders’ favorite thing about the shuttle was that it was free.

“We have to keep it as accessible as possible,” Joyce said. “I think (the fee) creates a barrier.”

The rest of the council found the $3 fee acceptable for the most part. Councilmember Rick Robinson suggested only requiring the fee for all-day services to help riders who need to make multiple trips only pay $3 one time, and Councilmember Peter Weiss noted that he does not want the city to make a profit on the shuttle program.

“I’m okay with having to pay something because even if we made it free, someone’s got to pay,” Weiss said.