Heads up, Laguna Beach trolley riders — the transit system’s year-round extended weekend neighborhood service will cease at the end of the month.
The move will affect three routes that serve the Top of the World, Bluebird Canyon and Arch Beach Heights neighborhoods. Once the changes go into effect, the trolley will no longer operate from 4 to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays or from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.
The City Council unanimously approved the action Tuesday, despite community support for the trolley service overall.
Residents said the free trolley provides easy, safe transit for Laguna Beach’s younger residents, is more environmentally friendly than driving and cheaper than using ride-share services such as Uber or Lyft to get around town.
The functionality of the Laguna Beach trolley smartphone app was criticized by some residents, however, as was the lack of readily available information on trolley schedules.
The council-approved schedule changes are in response to low ridership, which led to the loss of Orange County Transportation Authority grant funds meant to help local jurisdictions develop community transit options for areas not adequately served by regional offerings.
According to a Laguna city staff report, the low ridership numbers can partially be explained by the popularity of ride-sharing apps, a national downward trend in transit ridership and the inconvenience of the trolley’s schedule. The trolley runs every hour when it is in operation.
Extended weekend trolley service initially began in July 2017, with the goal of providing residents in the three neighborhoods opportunities to take public transit to go out to eat, shop or participate in other city activities, the staff report states.
At least 10 passengers per hour had to use the trolley for Laguna Beach to retain the OCTA grant funding past an initial two-year term. Though ridership was modest at the beginning, it steadily declined in spite of a marketing campaign and service improvements and currently sits at about four passengers per hour, according to the staff report.
The city received notice in late July that OCTA was discontinuing its funding.
Laguna also will reimburse OCTA $130,000 for the purchase of a trolley.
Though year-round extended weekend service will end on Sept. 30, the council also directed city staff to look into reinstituting the longer hours on a trial basis next summer to see if ridership can increase to the threshold required for the OCTA grant.
Staff also is currently evaluating the trolley’s regular weekday and Saturday neighborhood service.