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OJAI : Residents Rank 1st in Bus Ridership

Unlike some trolleys that exist to entice visitors, the Ojai Trolley is a residents’ bus.

More residents than tourists rely on the San Francisco-style green machine, No. 989, to get around the city, according to a recent ridership survey.

“It’s the best thing that ever happened to Ojai,” said teacher’s aide Aurora Holland, who boards the shiny modern replica and plops down on its wooden seats for her daily commute to a preschool across town.

Holland buys a seniors’ passbook that reduces her fare to 30 cents per ride from the adult rate of 75 cents. Those over the age of 75 can ride for free, but many seniors pay full fare out of fear the trolley will stop running if it is not supported, said Ojai Councilman Joseph DeVito. About half of the Ojai Trolley’s 65 riders or so a day are senior citizens who don’t drive and use the trolley to go shopping or get to the doctor, according to a ridership survey conducted by the city. Another 20 percent are teen-agers. The majority of riders are city residents, not tourists, the study reported.

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The trolley makes a dozen eight-mile spins around the city per day and operates from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day but Wednesday.

It costs about $38,300 a year to operate the trolley, said Elaine Willman, an administrative assistant with the city. Revenue from fares covers only 7% percent of the costs. The remainder is funded by the city, which contributes $6,757, the Ojai Valley Inn, which chips in $3,000 to have the trolley pick up guests and employees, and federal funding.

Until the Ojai Trolley debuted in June, Ventura County had returned up to $40,000 annually in special mass transit funds to the federal government, and had been doing so since 1983.

The goals of the so-called Section 18 federal program are to improve the access of people in non-urbanized areas to health care, shopping, education, employment, public service and recreation.

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No applicants in the county had ever been granted the rural funds until Ojai received $28,559 in 1989, said Maureen Lopez, director of planning for the South Coast Area Transit, a regional transportation agency. Ojai has applied for the same amount this year.

The city’s prospects are good because there are only a few applicants, Lopez said.

Willman said that if the city receives the grant, the City Council and Willowglen Investments, the private company that has a three-year city contract to operate the trolley, will consider expanding the service. Options include giving free rides to everyone, expanding the route and operating it seven days a week instead of six.

Ventura and Ojai have the only trolleys in the county, said Ojai Mayor Nina Shelley, who represents Ojai on the regional transportation board.

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In Ventura, residents are served by several buses. The trolley costs $2 per ride for adults, and senior passes are available. The trolley goes from downtown to the harbor four days a week, and to local malls two days a week.

David Taylor, the manager of Buenaventura Trolley, said he would like to see more Ventura residents use the trolley, which features a tour guide who points out the sights.


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