All Aboard for the Sights and Sounds of a Local Tradition

By Justin Swanson, Special to the Independent


Dexter Rockward, driver trainer and transit director for Laguna Beach’s trolleys, says it takes patience and a good attitude to navigate the town’s busy streets in summer. Photo by Danielle Robbins

Laguna Beach’s courtesy trolley system opens today, coinciding with the commencement of the art festival season.

The rollicking, adventure-filled and consistently entertaining Laguna tradition extends along the town’s two main intersecting arteries. Residents and tourists unite onboard to shun the frustration of dwindling parking spots. Taking advantage of the trolley’s scheduled stops, the savvy maneuver through town and “peak hours,” experiencing   often dynamic excursions despite typical summer congestion. Each voyage has the inherent potential for encounters with rambunctious cove-hopping teens, visitors gaping at cliff-hanging homes, and happy hour revelers who exact the benefits of being safely ferried betwixt the bars.

All in all, it is a certifiably Laguna experience.

Twenty-four trolleys will be in active service until Sept. 2, cruising four routes that traverse most of town. Along Coast Highway, routes span from Heisler Park in North Laguna to the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel. Through Laguna Canyon, short and long routes that begin at the ACT V parking lot are designed to convey travelers to the Sawdust Art Festival and Art-A-Fair and to the bus depot downtown, respectively.

Additionally, the main bus line will operate for free during the season.

The festival trolleys will be in full service from 9:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. seven days a week.  The main line runs from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, and 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. weekends.  During last summer alone, the combined lines carried 582,000 passengers.

“Every year it’s a pleasure, and I’ve been lucky to see it grow,” said Dexter Rockward, of Laguna Hills, a 15-year city driver who trains each year’s crop of seasonal workers to operate and navigate the trolleys. He is perpetually enamored with the city he works for, speaking highly of the citizens and tourists he has served.  “It’s such a good atmosphere.  People come here to have fun, and I get to be a part of that.  For that, I feel so fortunate.”

Director of Public Works Steve May explains that the city-funded service proves a boon to the festivals and local businesses because the trolleys allow the town to accommodate more people. “It has become a great way to be treated to the sights and sounds of Laguna,” he said.

Four new trolleys under construction will go into service next year, reducing the number in the fleet that are leased, May said.

By mid July, patrons with smart phones and a new city app will be able to track the trollies whereabouts, said Ken Fisher, who manages trolleys as deputy public works director. The phone app makes use of newly installed GPS systems in the buses and trolleys, introduced to allow supervisors to better manage routes where some trolleys get overloaded. Known as “Laguna Beach Travel Info – Official Insider’s Guide to All Things Laguna,” the app can be downloaded to an iPhone or an Android, though Fisher cautions that the entire app will not be functional for a few weeks. He promises an official announcement will be made.

Six different kinds of trolleys will be utilized, the New Molly, the San Francisco, the Red Trolley, the red and green Christmas Trolley, the open air, and the main line buses.  Trolleys operate in intervals of 20 minutes between each stop.  Trolley capacity ranges from 30 to 45 people, including standing room.


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