Trolleys to Run on Non-Summer Weekends

 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

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.   Photo by Danielle Robbins.

There’s good news for residents and visitors who cavort around town on the free trolleys all summer, then rue the day that service ends when the summer art festivals close in September. They’ll be rewarded next March when Laguna Beach starts off-season weekend trolley service, supported by a grant.

But there’s one catch. An average of seven riders an hour need to hop on each trolley or the city could lose the funding, said Steve May, the city’s public works director. And at least 10 riders an hour need to board to ensure the grant is renewed each year, he added.

“So it’s all up to all of us to get everyone to ride the trolley whenever it’s running,” said Mayor Elizabeth Pearson.

Funding for the 42 non-summer weekends of trolley service comes from a $360,000 grant from the Orange County Transportation Authority, matched by $90,000 from the city’s coffers, said May. The grant will also underwrite $472,500 towards three new trolleys that will be added to the southern route in summer, with the city kicking in $87,500 in matching funds, he said.

City staff is working with Visit Laguna and the Chamber of Commerce to “come up with a schedule and a route that we think will be successful” in order to maintain minimum ridership, said May.

Proposed off-season weekend trolley service, beginning March 5, will run from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays, said May. Up to six trolleys, one third of the summer fleet of 18, would follow a route from the bus depot along Coast Highway, heading as far north as Cajon Street and as far south as Aliso Beach. An abbreviated version of the summer shuttle route, the loop notably cuts out most of South Laguna.

“Outreach definitely needs to include the citizens of Laguna Beach” and not just hotels, said Council member Toni Iseman. What’s more, the 11 a.m. start time on Saturdays and Sundays could be too early to attract riders, she said.

“Our objective is to get citizens who live here out of their cars” since they are the people who called for extended trolley service in the first place, agreed Council member Kelly Boyd, who strongly objected to a route that excludes South Laguna’s population.

Addressing that concern, staff can probably work out an arrangement with Mission Hospital for a trolley turn around there, said Pietig. As far as outreach, to achieve successful ridership levels, “you probably need both visitors and residents to make it work,” he said.

The trolley expansion comes as city staff and consultants seek public input on studies of the city’s bus system and mobility plan.

Last week, the city mailed a survey to all Laguna Beach and Emerald Bay residents soliciting input on about their travel habits, improvements they would like and what might encourage non-users to board a bus. Note that due to a distribution delay, the survey completion deadline has been extended to June 6.

The survey ties in with a study commissioned to evaluate the $2.2 million Laguna Beach public transit system and identify ways to increase its use.

Meanwhile, Irvine’s RBF Consulting is attempting to outline a citywide network that accounts for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists and includes reliable public transit options. The effort grew out of the state’s “complete streets” mandate to make streets accessible to more than vehicular traffic and the city’s goal to draft a compliance plan by 2015.

To that end, the city scheduled a mobility and transit workshop from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 10, at the Laguna Beach Community Center, 380 Third St. Consultants seek the public’s feedback on ideas for both the mobility plan and the transit service.

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