The Buenaventura Trolley Co. announced Wednesday that it will discontinue service by Feb. 1 unless it can reach a financial arrangement with the city of Ventura.
David Taylor, the company’s general manager, said he plans to meet today with representatives of the Oxnard Visitors and Convention Bureau and hotel managers in the Channel Islands Harbor area to discuss moving the trolley service to Oxnard.
Taylor said it is unlikely that an agreement can be reached with Ventura since the city’s transportation committee recommended Tuesday against a $48,000 subsidy to the company. The City Council has yet to rule on the committee’s recommendation.
“We hate to let people down, but we went to the city for help and they said no,” Taylor said. He said the $48,000 grant he solicited would help the company cover losses incurred since it started the trolley business in September, 1989.
Despite numerous promotional efforts, the firm has been losing $4,000 a month since it began operating its three trolleys.
“We’re just not getting the support we expected from the downtown businesses,” Taylor said. He said that six advertising spots inside each trolley remain vacant, and the Downtown Ventura Assn. has failed to advertise the trolley in its newsletter despite repeated requests.
The city has brought more than $10,000 in trolley advertisements, but the company will have to return some of that money if it suspends service before its two-year contract with Ventura expires, Taylor said.
The trolley picks up passengers at several locations hourly along a 7-mile scenic route between downtown Ventura and the city’s beach areas on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. It also picks up passengers every hour and a half at stops between downtown and the San Buenaventura Mall on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Councilman John McWherter, a member of the transportation committee, said he regrets the company’s problems but cannot see the wisdom of investing in a venture that is not supporting itself.
“If we give them $48,000 this year, they’ll come back next year for another $50,000, and the next year they’ll probably ask for more,” he said.
McWherter said the city has determined that the trolleys attract passengers only on weekends and should limit service to then. If the company leaves, he said he will support the city’s buying a bus and operating it on weekends.
Councilman Todd Collart, another transportation committee member, said he cannot justify subsidizing the trolley with city transportation funds but would support helping the company with city funds derived from tourism.
“We said we couldn’t justify spending that money,” he said of the transportation funds. “But we left the door open for the funds to come out of some other source.”
But city planner Miriam Mack, who oversees the city’s downtown redevelopment efforts, said she doubts there is money for a subsidy in the transportation budget.
“We’re at midyear, mid-budget, and it will be difficult to find a pod of money available,” she said. “The trolley is a wonderful program that helps tourism and economic development, but it’s hard to recommend such a large subsidy when they can’t support themselves.”