CA: Laguna Mulls Future of Public Transit

Feb. 14--Laguna Beach residents were asked during a workshop this week for their views about public transportation in the city, including the possibility of introducing on-demand bus service.

Los Angeles-based IBI Group has been hired to gather research on the number of main-line bus riders and their reasons for using the service. The information gathered by the agency will help city staffers make recommendations to the City Council.

City Manager John Pietig summed up the purpose of Monday night's meeting, held at the Suzi Q Senior Center, with one question: "What would get you into our transit system?"

He continued, "This is just the beginning. We need to refine the input-gathering process. How do we get input from people who [don't ride public transportation]?"

Residents said they have had a difficult time figuring out the city's bus schedule or getting to a bus stop, particularly in the hilly areas.

The city's current public transportation provides main-line bus service six days a week, trolleys for 10 weeks in the summer and a reduced-fare taxi voucher program for residents. In addition, Sally's Fund takes seniors to and from appointments.

The cost of operating and maintaining the services has risen 22% in the past four years -- to $2.4 million, according to the city.

While the main-line bus service accounts for nearly half of the annual transportation budget, its customers make up less than 15% of total transit ridership. One-way bus fare is 75 cents.

"The main line provides a valuable service for people getting to work and school, but the ridership drops significantly midday, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.," IBI Group associate planner Steve Wilks told meeting attendees.

The goal should be getting people to think about how to get around without a car, resident Rita Conn said.

"Perhaps create a partnership with restaurants or merchants," Conn said. "Businesses could offer a 10% discount to customers who use public transportation."

The city trolleys, which offer free transportation from certain parking lots to the Festival of Arts grounds, are in high demand by visitors and residents.

"In the summer in north Laguna, I can't catch a trolley at home," resident Audrey Prosser said. "Possibly increase the [transit] budget?"

During the summertime tourist blitz, "trolleys were passing stops because they were full," Pietig said.

In June, Laguna received a $525,000 Orange County Transportation Authority grant to buy three new trolleys and augmented it with $52,000 in city matching funds to help with the summertime crowds.

The grant will also pay for trolley service on 24 non-summer Fridays and weekends, according to the city website.

"It will only be successful if people ride it," Councilwoman Toni Iseman said at the meeting. "If you have to walk home, it's a big deal in the wintertime. How do we ensure success of shuttle in the winter?"

Wilks said efficiency plays a key part in any transit program.

"If you have trolley and main-line service in the same area, maybe you don't have main-line in that area," Wilks said.

One Laguna Canyon resident said she would ride the bus, but she can't get across Laguna Canyon Road to the nearest stop.

Wilks suggested that an alternative to the current fixed bus routes would be on-demand service, which would allow residents to call ahead for a bus to arrive at their home.

The city will probably hold another public workshop before crafting recommendations to take to the City Council, Public Works Director Steve May said.

"We need to provide services the community needs with a caveat of financial constraints," May said.

Information on the transit system and IBI's research is available at http://www.lagunabeachcity.net.

Copyright 2014 - Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot, Costa Mesa, Calif.

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