Third City May Join Transit System : Palos Verdes Estates Council to Consider Move Tuesday

Times Staff Writer

The city of Palos Verdes Estates is being urged to join Palos Verdes Transit, bringing areawide dial-a-van transportation service one step closer on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

The service, which utilizes seven 19-passenger vans and carries about 5,000 riders a month, 80% of them schoolchildren, was started 1 1/2 years ago by Rancho Palos Verdes. Rolling Hills Estates joined in last September. The system, which now costs $300,000 a year, is paid for through the cities' share of funds from a special 1/2-cent county sales tax for transportation and through fares, which return about 20% of the operating cost.

A proposal to affiliate with Palos Verdes Transit will be considered Tuesday by the Palos Verdes Estates City Council. City Manager Tom Devereux has recommended approval, and last week the Peninsula Transportation Authority, which operates a separate dial-a-taxi service for the elderly and handicapped in the three cities, urged the city to join.

"Palos Verdes Transit is now an experienced transit provider that has effectively responded to community transit needs," said Devereux. "They are established, have vehicles, have dispatchers and have management."

The Palos Verdes Peninsula Chamber of Commerce also has called on Palos Verdes Estates to get aboard the transit system.

"Even if there are separate cities, the Peninsula is one community," said chamber President John E. Corcoran.

Barbara Culver, a Palos Verdes Estates councilwoman and transit advocate, said the city could join Palos Verdes Transit for an approximate annual cost of $80,000. Two more vans would be added and the city would pay the bulk of the costs, with the remainder covered by Rancho Palos Verdes and Los Angeles County.

Culver said children and the elderly need the service, and it is something Palos Verdes Estates can afford. But neither she nor Devereux would predict how the vote will go Tuesday. Culver said that some council members have felt that community transportation "is a job for mothers and housewives."

So far, the Peninsula's fourth city--gated Rolling Hills--has steered clear of Palos Verdes Transit, despite invitations to join.

"We have a question of privacy because of the gates," said Mayor Ginny Leeuwenburgh. "The (van) driver will not know who gets on and off inside our city and we have concern over our loss of control over access."

The mayor also said the need for a transit system in Rolling Hills is dubious, based on a transportation questionnaire last fall that was returned by only 47 of the city's 675 households. Of that number, Leeuwenburgh said, 17 said there was no need for a system, 16 said there was some need and another 14 cited special needs, such as transportation to Los Angeles International Airport.

But Rolling Hills Councilwoman Gordana Swanson, who is also vice president of the Southern California Rapid Transit District board of directors, said that even that small response indicates need.

"This is a city that has never had a service and where people think it's charity because they don't know that the city bought into a (special sales tax) fund," she said. "Then we get a response from a few who people who say there is a need. I know there are even more people."

Leeuwenburgh and Swanson said the city is considering a pilot transit system of its own and has invited Wilmington Cab Co., which operates Palos Verdes Transit on a contract with the two cities that fund it, to make a presentation to the City Council.

Not Enough Money

However, Wilmington Cab President Mitchell Rouse said Rolling Hills' special sales tax allocation-- $17,500 a year--is "not much money" when it comes to operating a transit system. "It pays for less than one van," he said. "We could only do partial days, a vehicle for peak hours only."

Palos Verdes Transit was started to supplement RTD service, which is confined largely to major thoroughfares such as Hawthorne and Crenshaw boulevards and Palos Verdes Drive. Advantages of the system, officials say, is that it takes people to and from their destinations on a call-for-service basis and goes into hillside and canyon neighborhoods not served by the RTD.

Possible Solution

The Palos Verdes Transit Committee, made up of four Rancho Palos Verdes residents and a fifth member to be appointed by Rolling Hills Estates, was recently formed to advise the staff on transit policy.

One of the first issues it will tackle is the heavy demand at peak morning and afternoon hours, when children going to school in the morning and to various locations in the afternoon glut the system. "More kids want to ride than may be accommodated," said Gordon Siebert, public works director in Rancho Palos Verdes.

One solution might be fixed routes at peak hours, officials say. Others are increased fees to discourage people who have other means of transit, or the addition of more vans.

There has never been a survey to determine how many riders are dependent on Palos Verdes Transit and how many use it as an alternative to other transportation, such as car pools or private automobiles. Siebert said, however, that "many people . . . would be forced to make major changes in their schedules, or give up some activities, if this service did not exist." He said many working parents drop their children at school in the morning and rely on the van to take them home in the afternoon.

Waiting for Study

Margaret Blue, transit committee chairwoman, said the peak hour charge was set at $1 to make people "think if this is an alternative to a car pool."

Rouse said the success of Palos Verdes Transit has been surprising. He said demand for transit traditionally comes from low-income communities, not affluent areas like the Peninsula.

Both Rolling Hills Estates and Palos Verdes Estates were hesitant about joining the transit system last year, preferring to wait for completion of a Peninsula transit study by the Southern California Assn. of Governments. A draft report of the $15,000 study, paid for by the Peninsula Transit Authority, was recently completed. It called for a Peninsula-wide system combining dial-a-van and changes in present RTD routes.

"We thought it more cautious to wait for the results of the study," said Councilwoman Culver of Palos Verdes Estates.

But while the study was in progress, Rolling Hills Estates decided to join the transit system. "We saw an advantage to being in the system because it was in place," said Assistant City Manager Ray Taylor.

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