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Shuttle Service Proposed to Ease Ventura Boulevard Traffic

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles city transit officials have begun studying the possibility of shuttle bus service on Ventura Boulevard, at the urging of a group of business owners along the heavily used commercial corridor.

As proposed by the Ventura Boulevard Assn., minibuses such as those used downtown would run between Studio City and Tarzana, picking up riders at scattered “park-and-ride” locations and enabling them to run errands and patronize restaurants up and down the boulevard without having to repeatedly look for parking spaces.

The plan was outlined Wednesday night at a meeting of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., whose president hailed the idea as a potential boon to residents as well as shopkeepers.

Parking on residential side streets--by employees and patrons--is a constant source of friction between boulevard businesses and nearby homeowners. The issue is particularly important in Sherman Oaks, where a district was recently formed to give residents preferential parking.

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“It’s a perfect solution to the parking and traffic mess we have on the boulevard,” association president Richard Close said before the meeting.

“Business owners love it and homeowners love it. Often those two groups are at odds, but this is something we can work toward as a common goal,” Close said.

A city Department of Transportation official who attended the meeting, planner John Fong, described the proposal as still in its early stages. It would require approval from the City Council and the Southern California Rapid Transit District, whose buses serve essentially the same route, Fong said.

But Close and the plan’s chief booster, commercial real estate broker Jeff Brain, said they were confident that the proposed 25-cent shuttle service would win the necessary approvals and funding.

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The shuttle service, designed for short trips on the boulevard, would be far cheaper than the RTD’s $1.10 bus rides, and would pick up and discharge passengers in locations more convenient for shoppers.

Supporters include Nikolas Patsaouras, president of the RTD board and a Tarzana resident well-acquainted with the frustrations of Ventura Boulevard traffic.

Patsaouras said money for traffic improvements would be better spent on a shuttle service than on widening Ventura Boulevard, a plan he said would only invite more cars.

“We have to stop selling the public concrete, concrete and more concrete,” said Patsaouras, adding that the RTD board is already familiar with the plan and supports it.

Fong said a pilot project using two minibuses in operation and one as a backup would cost about $250,000 to $300,000. The money could come from transit funds from Propositions A and C--income from the county’s half-cent share of the sales tax--or from the “trip fees” the city will levy on Ventura Boulevard developments for every new vehicle trip the projects generate during the evening rush hour.

The city transportation department would administer the program but contract with a private firm to operate the minibuses, as it does with its shuttle services downtown and in the Westwood, Pacific Palisades and Fairfax districts, Fong said.

The boulevard shuttle would also complement a similar service planned on a route looping between the Van Nuys Civic Center, Studio City and Sherman Oaks, he said.

Brain said his group, a 9-month-old organization of 150 business owners and tenants, would prefer trolleys rather than conventional minibuses because they have more appeal. The trolleys under discussion would actually be gas-powered minibuses designed to look like the old-fashioned vehicles. They would not require the construction of tracks.

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But Fong said the city would prefer minibuses such as those used by its DASH service--for Downtown Area Short Hop--so they could be interchanged if necessary with other neighborhood shuttles.

Fong acknowledged the initial appeal of trolleys but said “after six months or so, it’s not cute anymore.” He also said trolleys in the Fairfax district have generated complaints of hard seats and lack of air-conditioning--amenities offered by the less-romantic minibuses.


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