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Laguna mulls future of public transit

As a consultant gathers data on ridership, the possibility of on-demand service is raised.

February 12, 2014|By Bryce Alderton

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?"

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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.

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