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Laguna Beach to launch on-demand neighborhood rideshare service in fall

People stroll along the sand in Laguna Beach in May 2020.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Laguna Beach plans to launch a new on-demand neighborhood transportation program for the Arch Beach Heights, Bluebird Canyon and Top of the World communities in the fall.

The Laguna Beach City Council directed city staff to implement the pilot program, which will take the place of a fixed-route, hourly trolley service that had served those neighborhoods in the past.

Prior to the shutdown of the city’s public transportation fleet due to the coronavirus pandemic, city staff had been fielding community input for why the neighborhood trolley service was not being put to greater use. Along all three neighborhood routes, the trolleys were seeing less than 10 boardings per hour.

“It wasn’t a lack of marketing, it wasn’t that people didn’t know that there was a trolley that served the neighborhoods,” Deputy Director of Public Works Michael Litschi said. “It was that for one reason or another, the service and the service design did not work for them, so we heard from residents that they wanted more frequent service, more reliable service, and service that operated extended hours later into the evening, so that they could go from the residential neighborhoods to downtown and back again.”

Hours of operation for the free on-demand neighborhood service will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday. The council opted not to have the neighborhood rideshare service run on Sundays initially.

The intention of the program is to bring residents of the associated neighborhoods to the downtown area. If a passenger of the on-demand service wishes to get to a destination further north or south within the city, they will be able to hop on a trolley along the Coastal Route.

The on-demand rideshare service will be accessible via a mobile app or by calling the city’s transit dispatch line: (949) 497-0766. The expected wait time will be 15 to 20 minutes.

Children under the age of 13 will have to ride with an adult, and parents will have to provide a child seat for children who require one to use the on-demand service, for which smaller vehicles will be put to use to navigate the narrower neighborhood streets.

The drivers who operate the neighborhood rideshare service will be contracted through LAZ Parking, which is currently operating the city’s trolleys.

Litschi added that the city expects to have four vehicles in total for the service, including one that will provide ADA accessibility. The council also requested that bike racks be added to vehicles that service the on-demand neighborhood pilot program.

The on-demand neighborhood transit program came up for discussion in March, and there was $753,000 set aside for neighborhood transit services, including this project, in the 2021-22 fiscal year budget.

Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf asked about the possibility of having electric vehicles service the neighbor routes.

Mark McAvoy, the director of public works for the city, said that while that is a goal, city staff anticipates having hybrid vehicles at first.

Resident Judie Mancuso urged the city to be selective about the vehicles utilized in the on-demand fleet, imploring officials to not consider gas engines.

“I would hold off on these vehicles until you can get zero emission in our neighborhoods,” Mancuso said. “Hybrid should be the rock bottom, but bringing gas combustion engines into the neighborhood should be an absolute no-go.”

Another resident who described herself as a longtime trolley rider was enthusiastic about the service.

“I’ve been walking to work in town every day for the past year, so it will be nice to get a ride,” Elizabeth McGhee said. “Three miles is good for exercise, but after work, it’s not so fun. It will be really nice where I teach at the public library and the Susi Q soon, and so it will be a great service where students can go and attend things again.”

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