Freebees Aren’t Free

by Kerry Dougherty

I can’t be the only Virginia Beach taxpayer sick of watching my real estate taxes climb every year while the city council wastes money on pricey gimmicks like “free” Tesla rides for residents and visitors to the city.

For two years we’ve picked up the tab for a small fleet of Teslas to be summoned to haul swells and drunks around the oceanfront.

The first year, the misnamed “Freebee” program cost taxpayers $500,000. Last year the project cost $1.3 million. According to city officials, 52% of riders who were too cheap to call a cab or Uber were visitors, while 48% were locals suffering from the same freeloading mentality.

Notice a pattern?

Thankfully, City Manager Patrick Duhaney left this free-market-tampering boondoggle out of this year’s proposed city budget, although some of the Beach’s tax-and-spend knuckleheads are lobbying to put it back.

When this nutty idea was proposed two years ago I wrote that it was wrong for the city council  to use tax dollars to compete with Ubers, Lyfts and taxis. 

It’s never a good thing when government decides to jump into the free market, whether by giving handouts to favorite developers or offering free ride-sharing.

In other cities, the municipality pays a nominal fee and the cars are sponsored by local businesses that slap their ads on the exteriors. Not here. Our magnanimous city government is letting taxpayers pick up the entire tab.

And no, it doesn’t matter which fund is used for the service. It’s all public money.

What’s next? A free city-sponsored seafood restaurant, where tourists can sample the bounty of our local waters without paying for their entrees or that usurious Virginia Beach meals tax? How about a taxpayer-subsidized hotel where guests can stay free of charge in five-star luxury?

When I spoke to him yesterday Mayor Bobby Dyer said he’d cooled on the Freebee program.

“It was done with good intentions,” Dyer said. “But these things have unintended consequences. I’m looking at it skeptically especially in light of the budget.”

Let’s hope so.

A fact sheet provided by the city shows that from June to December of 2022 Freebee provided 34,357 rides.

That’s 34,357 fares that Uber, Lyft and taxis didn’t get. City council would do well to remember that drivers in the gig economy are supporting families with their fares. They’re struggling to put food on the table, buy clothes for their kids, and maybe enjoy a meal out once in a while like everyone else.

The city is essentially stealing from these drivers by providing free rides to compete with them.

And anecdotally, I see these Freebees regularly rolling out of the swanky Cavalier Hotel driveway. That means we’re providing free rides to some of the wealthiest visitors to the Beach.

I asked, but the city was unable to tell me how many of the thousands of rides began or ended at the historic hotel.

Time to cut it all out. We’ve had enough wasteful spending on frivolities.

No more public money for Freebee. The “free” rides aren’t free.

Republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed and Unedited.