SHERMAN OAKS : Shuttle Plan Could Dash Trolley Hopes

Community leaders say they are unhappy with the DASH-type bus the city wants to use when the Sherman Oaks shuttle service begins this winter and favor instead a vehicle resembling an old-fashioned trolley.

"Why (the vehicle) is even being considered as a DASH bus, I'm stunned," said Jeff Brain, chairman of the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan Review Board. "Time after time (the Transportation Department) has come up with concerns and we've addressed them. They have a policy against trolleys. They come up with opposition to whatever we've proposed."

Brain and other community activists prefer a minibus that resembles an old-fashioned trolley to the natural-gas-powered DASH bus, predicting that the charming appearance of the trolleys will attract more riders and lend an appealing ambience to the community.

The city Department of Transportation, on the other hand, favors DASH (Downtown Area Short Hop) buses, saying that trolleys are more difficult to maintain, less comfortable for riders and less interchangeable with the other DASH buses the city owns in the event of a breakdown.

"I've talked to hundreds of my customers," said Don Shain, owner of Shain's restaurant. "A lot of research has gone into this. The customers say, 'I'd love the trolley.' But a DASH bus? It's like they immediately lose interest."

"(DASH buses) are just not rider-friendly," said Ellen Vukovich, a member of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. "They don't invite you to get on and take a short hop."

A trolley system "is what the community wants," she said.

Senior transportation engineer Mike Uyeno said trolleys are more expensive to purchase than DASH buses, and their wooden design features--which he said must be refinished at least twice a year--make them more difficult to maintain.

The city experimented with trolleys in the Fairfax District, Uyeno said, but they proved unpopular because riders found them difficult to board and complained that the wooden seats were too hard.

Brain, however, said that trolleys can be made without wooden touches and that the vehicles have been used successfully in Santa Barbara and Whittier.

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