Laguna Beach has been ambitious when experimenting with public transportation as it tries to reduce the number of cars traveling throughout town.
But on Tuesday the City Council unanimously agreed not to make changes to non-summer routes and times of neighborhood trolleys and buses, and two weekend trolley routes along South Coast Highway.
As part of its vote, on recommendation of Councilman Bob Whalen, the council directed staff to gather more extensive ridership figures to help in making future decisions.
“While I find the outreach staff did is helpful, I don’t believe these responses are statistically significant to be a representative sample,” Whalen said. “A lot of people did not respond. When this comes back, I want ridership info.
“[The city’s mainline buses] ride around my neighborhood empty all the time. If I can find one person riding the blue and white buses in north Laguna, it’s notable.”
Earlier this year the council, on a 3-2 vote, approved the two trolley routes along South Coast Highway.
It also approved eliminating north and south Laguna bus routes because of low ridership numbers, and relegating bus service to morning and afternoon hours without mid-day service.
But council members directed staff not to make changes until gathering public feedback.
The city held a public meeting in July and sent mailers to residents, asking whether they favored relegating bus and trolley service to peak hours during weekdays and canceling bus routes in north and south Laguna, according to a city staff report.
A majority of respondents said they did not favor canceling bus service in north and south Laguna, nor reducing the hours of neighborhood and bus and trolley service, the staff report said.
For example, of 93 respondents to the question regarding reduced bus hours, 83 people said they opposed the change, the report said.
Buses currently travel through neighborhoods from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturdays, the Daily Pilot reported in March.
City staff suggested the trolley routes along South Coast Highway as a way to reduce overcrowding on the vehicles, specifically by providing more room for south Laguna residents, the staff report said.
But south Laguna resident Michele Monda told the council that it has been difficult to find space on trolleys.
“I’ve given up riding the trolley because of that reason,” Monda said. “It’s horrible to see them go by one after the other [because they are full].”
One of the routes, called the Coastal Route, begins in north Laguna at North Cliff Drive and includes the current stops, but goes no farther than Mission Hospital.
The other trolley route, deemed the Limited Stop Coastal Route, begins at the transit depot in downtown Laguna and has fewer stops than the Coastal Route. Trolleys pause at The Ranch at Laguna Beach and the Ritz-Carlton resort in Dana Point.
Mayor Toni Iseman asked if every other trolley along the Limited Stop Coastal Route could stop at the Ritz-Carlton.
Iseman claimed the trolleys traveling through south Laguna were full because of passengers boarding at the Ritz-Carlton and that the Limited Coastal route deprived south Laguna residents of stops south of Mission Hospital.
“I’m not in favor of picking up kids at the Ritz unless we charge $1 for a pickup,” Iseman said. “Reduce the ridership so the trolley can do what the original intent was: move people in Laguna Beach around Laguna Beach.
Collecting cash would introduce a “whole new element” that would cost the city more to gather money, Public Works Director Shohreh Dupuis told the council.
“When we started going to the various hotels, pre-Uber, pre-Lyft, the intention was to bring grownups who want to come here,” Iseman said. “Grownups are not getting on the shuttle at the Ritz. There is no place to sit.”
In response to complaints from some south Laguna residents that they no longer had access to stops in the city’s southern portion, city staff added two stops: Second Avenue in the northbound direction, and West Street in the southbound direction, according to the staff report.
Paula Faust, Laguna’s deputy public works director, said the city considered the parking lot of a shopping center at the corner of Crown Valley Parkway and Pacific Coast Highway as a turnaround spot instead of the Ritz-Carlton, but property owners within the center opposed that idea.
City Manager John Pietig said the reason for the delay in implementing changes is to see how the current format performs when riders use a smartphone app to track trolleys and buses.
“One of the complaints about why people are not riding in trolleys is that they are not convenient enough to use," Pietig said. “When the app is working right, you can follow, on the smartphone, where trolleys [and buses] are on the route you need to go. We had problems with it not functioning, problems with GPS equipment.”
Weekend coastal trolleys run from 4 to 11 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays, according to the city’s website.
Maintaining the same hours will cost the city more money — $145,000 — than it anticipated, the staff report said. The money will come out of the city’s parking fund and be added to the $641,600 already budgeted
The non-summer routes and times will remain at least through June 2018, the staff report said.
For more information on Laguna’s public transit services, visit lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/parking/default.htm.