The city’s hugely popular free daily trolley service along Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road resumes today, Friday, June 24, coinciding with the seasonal opening of two of the city’s three summer art festivals.
A few of the open-air trolleys begin rolling from the ACT V parking lot in Laguna Canyon as early as 8 a.m. for the benefit of festival employees, but the full fleet of 15 hit the streets in 20-minute intervals from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., according to Steve May, the city’s director of public works.
Parking remains $7 daily in the ACT V lot in Laguna Canyon, said Susan Cannan, of the city’s community services department.
The trolleys traverse the same three primary routes and 30 stops marked with Catch the Wave signs, as they did last year.
And the downtown bus depot remains a convergence point for inbound visitors with destinations other than the Laguna Canyon art festivals. The Festival of Art opens to the public July 3, joining the Sawdust Art Festival and Art-a-Fair, which opened to the public today. Visitors seeking points north and south must transfer at the depot to outbound trolleys that cruise Coast Highway in opposing directions.
Trolley stewards stationed at the depot and ACT V will assist visitors with route information as well as report delays or congestion on the line to trolley supervisors, May said. Initially at least, a third steward stationed last year at the Mission Hospital stop will be omitted. “We are trying to do more with fewer people,” he said.
The northbound trolley route terminates at Cliff Drive near Viejo Street in north Laguna, while Three Arch Bay remains the official route end in south Laguna. Even so, some passengers boarded as far south as Dana Point’s Monarch Beach Plaza, where southbound buses make a turn-around before re-circulating to downtown Laguna.
A record 620,000 riders boarded trolleys during their nine-week run last year, a 13 percent increase compared to 2009, according to a ridership report. As a measure of their popularity, just 207,800 passengers boarded trolleys in 2001.
The city’s entire bus and trolley system, which includes year-around mainline bus service, cost $2.1 million to operate in 2009. The system was funded about equally by local parking revenue and state funds, according to a transit report. Fares of 75 cents a ride dropped in $70,000.
Along the route, open-air trolleys cultivate a lively culture absent on other buses. During one pre-Independence Day evening, local Sue Pons instigated an impromptu sing-along of patriotic tunes, enticing nearly every passenger to join in. Another trolley boarded by costumed teens wearing eye-patches and brandishing toy swords subjected their captive audience to a rendition of “A Pirate’s Life for Me.” Visitors quiz locals for tips on restaurants and beaches. But drivers also eject rowdy, sometimes inebriated teens that take advantage of the trolleys as party buses for drinking without driving.
Merchants along the route generally welcome the trolley’s return. “It creates additional foot traffic and any kind of traffic – foot or trolley or tour bus – is always welcome,” said Cathy Wilkinson, owner of Bubbles of Laguna, a street-level shop in Hotel Laguna steps from an often-jammed trolley stop. “When you hear the ding, ding, ding, you know it’s summer time!” she said, referring to the trolley’s bell.
Laguna’s pay-as-you-go mainline buses continue to run along Coast Highway and interior routes to Top of the World, Bluebird Canyon and Arch Beach Heights neighborhoods. Apart from the county-wide OCTA bus system, Laguna’s blue and white mini-buses remain the county’s only other transit system, patronized by a record 96,000 passengers last year, the ridership report says.