To take advantage of a potential $3.7 million windfall in county transportation funding, Laguna Beach’s City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to apply for a grant that could expand the city’s popular free summer trolley service to weekends in six post-summer months.
The windfall comes via the countywide Measure M half-cent sales tax that funds various transportation improvements, including so-called Project V, which metes out funding for new or expanded local transit.
The program allows for cities to receive up to $525,000 annually over seven years, if it is matched 10 percent by a local agency. Grant applications are due before April 1.
City staff proposed two options for grant requests: either buying three new trolleys in order to put them into action for summer service during peak hours to reduce wait times, or to extend trolley service beyond the two summer months to include weekend service in other months.
Laguna’s free trolleys shuttled 582,000 riders around town during the summer art festival season in 2011. On year-round routes, the city’s “blue line” buses ferried 86,000 passengers who pay 75-cent fares, Public Works Director Steve May told the Indy last April.
While the purchase of trolleys would use up the whole $525,000 the first year, for the duration of the grant the city could only tap the grant to cover $30,000 in operating costs annually. In total, leases, maintenance, fuel and drivers needed to operate the trolleys up and down Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road cost nearly $1 million a year.
Council members agreed on the desirability of expanding the existing trolley fleet, but Bob Whalen suggested devising a “hybrid” grant to tap into the entire $525,000 sum by seeking funding to buy new trolleys as well as expanding service.
City Manager John Pietig and Public Works Director Steve May were uncertain whether such a hybrid grant would prove acceptable, but decided it was worth attempting.
Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson suggested that since Laguna and Anaheim are the only two cities in the county providing public transportation, the Orange County Transportation Authority is likely to look favorably on the city’s request.