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Laguna Beach to hire contractor for trolley services

The Laguna Beach south route trolley roars past Forest Avenue after a day of moving riders around the city.
The Laguna Beach south route trolley roars past Forest Avenue after a day of moving locals and tourists around the city.
(File Photo)

Laguna Beach will be turning over its trolley service to a contractor when operations resume.

The Laguna Beach City Council unanimously approved a plan to execute an initial five-year agreement with LAZ Parking to provide drivers and dispatchers to staff the city’s trolley service.

The contract could have a value of up to $1.93 million in the first year, and over the life of the agreement, the cost could be $10.6 million.

The city plans to resume its summer trolley service on June 25. The contractor would also provide services for the off-season weekend trolleys and a neighborhood service. City staff plan to return to council in the summer to discuss a pilot program for an on-demand residential transit service.

Michael Litschi, a deputy director of public works for the city, said in a presentation before the council on Tuesday that about 80% of the funding required for the trolley service comes from state and local grants. The rest of the funds come from the city’s parking fund, predominantly accrued from public parking lots and meters.

Laguna Beach’s trolley service had been using part-time employees in the city’s public works department, many of whom were school bus drivers who worked on weekends and during summer breaks.

The lack of flexibility with the part-time employees led to challenges with scheduling, and the city incurred increasing overtime costs due to a shortage of available staff.

Staff members associated with the trolley service have been on furlough since the coronavirus pandemic caused the city to suspend trolley operations.

The city employs a full-time transit supervisor, a full-time trolley driver and between 90 and 100 part-time drivers and dispatchers. It also has two part-time administrative staff members with respect to the public transit service.

Litschi said that as part of negotiations during the proposal fielding process, the city sought assurances that retaining staff currently used for the trolley service would be a point of emphasis. He added that the contractor has expressed that it would intend to pay wages comparable to what the city’s employees were currently earning.

“I want to make very clear that we as staff really recognize the value that our trolley drivers bring to the city,” Litschi said. “Many of them have been with the city for many, many years and have a lot of local knowledge, and they’re really not just drivers that are transporting residents and visitors.

“They serve as ambassadors for the city and are the first point of contact that many visitors have in Laguna Beach, so recognizing that, we were very clear in the [request for proposal] that the selected contractor needed to make it a priority to retain as many existing city employees as possible to ensure that we maintain the friendly, familiar service that our residents and visitors have grown accustomed to with the transition to a contracted operation.”

A staff report detailing the proposed contract said that the city fielded proposals from three transportation firms.

LAZ Parking was deemed to be the most qualified, with city staff citing the firm’s footprint of service in Orange County as a major consideration.

The firm operates similar trolley services in Dana Point, Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.

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