A free "Holiday Trolley" service is coming to downtown Glendale after the City Council voted 3-1 during a special meeting last week for the experimental shuttle — despite some reservations about its cost to subsidize each ride when compared to available alternatives.
Glendale's Community Development Department will lease two gas-powered trolleys that will provide a temporary community shuttle service independent from the city's own transit, such as the Glendale Beeline bus system or Metrolink.
The trolley is scheduled to run starting Nov. 18 through Jan. 15, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and weekends from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The suggested route will provide one-direction service along Brand Boulevard and Central Avenue, looping at West Stocker Street to the north and East Colorado Street to the south.
A majority of the support came from Councilwoman Paula Devine, inspired by her face-to-face meetings with people who live and work along the north end of Brand.
"This is for the people that live [and work] in the north side, above Glenoaks, that have to take more than one bus to get down to the Americana or Galleria. It's difficult for them to get there," Devine said.
According to Philip Lanzafame, the city's community development director, the estimated cost is $143, 294, a bulk of which comes from leasing the two vehicles, as well as maintenance, service and driver pay.
Bus dealership Creative Bus Sales will provide both trolleys, which can accommodate about 26 passengers and up to two wheelchairs at the same time. The city may stamp its own decals on the trolleys.
Lanzafame provided council with what he called a "conservative" ridership estimate for the trolley of 6.4 passengers an hour, based on data from beach communities, such as Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Beach, which operate similar services. However, those communities' trolleys only operate in the summer.
The Beeline's 10-riders-per-hour average during the holidays was also factored into ridership estimates, but those numbers are from a 2010 study and downtown Glendale has grown significantly since then.
Councilman Vrej Agajanian cast the dissenting vote based on the projected costs to the city to subsidize each rider. A trip on the trolley may cost the city $9.20 per ride on the conservative end or $18.26 on the high end.
"I cannot see how people living in [the] northwest can benefit from this — or Adams Hill [neighborhood] or other places," Agajanian said. "The benefit will be very limited."
He added that he could not support the estimated ticket prices when ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft are available for less on average.
Although Councilman Zareh Sinanyan shared similar concerns about the costs to operate the trolley, he said it may help encourage support from the community for a proposed streetcar route connecting the Glendale Transportation Center in the south part of the city to the Hollywood Burbank Airport.
"It may give a phantom taste of what's to come in Glendale, which is our streetcar," Sinanyan said. "This is sort of a test run … It may instill the idea in people that maybe we can get around on public transportation."
Previously, the city of Glendale operated a free shuttle service during the opening of the Americana at Brand in 2008 via the city's now-defunct Redevelopment Agency. Later, officials with Caruso, which owns the Americana, provided a shuttle service for customers who shopped at the outdoor mall in 2010.
Both trolley services were discontinued before they could reach the holiday season due to a steep decline in ridership.
There hasn't been a shuttle service during the holiday season in Glendale for at least 20 years, according to Lanzafame.