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Trolley Trash

By J.J. Gasparotti

Laguna’s trolleys got their start long ago with trailers being pulled by a tractor around downtown and out to the festival. Service was contracted from the Venice Tram Company. It was not free for the rider. The mission was to provide a little bit more shopping and dining time for our summer visitors before they had to get in their seats at the Pageant of the Masters.

It has been nothing but mission creep since then. Laguna’s free trolley service has turned into the plant from “Little Shop of Horrors.” It has grown into a money-sucking monster. Everywhere a person drives there is an empty trolley blocking the lanes ahead. It’s supposedly performing its new mission, reducing traffic. These empty trolleys aren’t reducing traffic. They are clogging traffic. Even blind people can see this.

There is no empirical data supporting the notion that free trolleys reduce traffic in town. There is a mountain of anecdotal evidence that they are bad for traffic. Just ask the folks in South Laguna.

The blue bus was small so that it could comfortably navigate Laguna’s narrow curving streets. Trolleys are so big and fat that they can’t make it down a lot of the streets on their South Laguna routes. If any cars are parked there, a lot of time-consuming jockeying back and forth to get maneuvered around those tight turns is required.

The free trolley’s mission increased to replacing the little blue bus in an effort to spread the losses over a bigger base. The little blue bus was losing taxpayers about $25 per rider. With the free trolley’s riders included, the loss is down to only $16 per rider. It’s like the restaurant where the food is terrible, but at least they give you a lot.

The combined free service loses almost $4 million a year. Staff tries to sweeten the picture, pointing out that we’re only losing $800,000 of our own money and the other $3.2 million, in the form of temporary grants, is other folks’ money. Does this sound like a sustainable plan Laguna can afford over the long run?

It seems like mostly the folks that like free trolleys are parents. There’s the out of town parents who send their kids to Laguna’s lifeguarded beaches as a form of free day care, and the local parents who use the trolley as a free ride to school rather than pay the district’s $300 per student school bus fee. Free trolleys are an attractive nuisance that brings the wrong type of visitor to town. It’s time to end them.

J.J. Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11 years old. He has loved it ever since.

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