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Q&A: Upcoming pilot program for on-demand neighborhood trolley service


New van trolleys will soon be hitting the streets in specific areas as part of an on-demand neighborhood transit pilot program.

The new service comes after three routes (Top of the World, Arch Beach Heights, and Bluebird Canyon) had significantly less riders compared to the busy trolleys operating on Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road. 

In early 2020, staff conducted a series of community listening sessions and distributed a survey to gather feedback. Based on the results, residents reported that they would use the trolley more often if it operated more frequently with extended hours. On-demand services have been growing in popularity where transit services are needed, but the city lacks the demand to operate a more regular basis on a fixed route.

So, in March of this year, City Council directed staff to present a pilot program for an on-demand residential transit service that would replace hourly trolley service on the three neighborhood routes. Council voted 5-0 on July 27 in support of the trolley plan, which kicks off this fall. 

Deputy Director of Public Works, Transit and Parking Michael Litschi explained the new service in a Q&A with Stu News Laguna this week.

Q and A map

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of city of Laguna Beach

The service map for the on-demand neighborhood trolley pilot program

Q: What’s the basic premise and primary goal of the new service?

A: The goal of the service is to provide residents access to local businesses, restaurants, retailers, government services, jobs, and non-emergency medical care in the City of Laguna Beach without the need for a private vehicle. On-demand transit service is commonly used in low-density suburban areas like Laguna Beach that do not have sufficient ridership demand to support traditional bus routes using larger vehicles. In addition, smaller vehicles will be used as part of the program to maneuver the narrow neighborhood streets.

Q: Why was this new service brought forth?

A: The on-demand program is being introduced in direct response to resident feedback and will replace the neighborhood trolley service that was previously provided in the Top of the World, Bluebird Canyon, and Arch Beach Heights neighborhoods. 

Q: What neighborhoods and routes will be served?

A: A map of the on-demand routes, hours and service area is available here

Q: What should residents expect and how can they get the most out of this new service?

A: Residents will be able to request a ride using a mobile app, select their preferred pick-up and drop-off location along the routes, and track their vehicle’s progress, similar to ridesharing apps like Uber or Lyft. Those without access to a smartphone can request a ride via phone by calling the City’s transit dispatch line at (949) 497-0766. The on-demand app will be accessed through the existing Laguna Beach Trolley app. The on-demand software will be provided by DoubleMap/TransLoc, the same vendor used by the City for trolley dispatching and tracking, which allows the on-demand and trolley statuses to be integrated. 

Q: How many riders per day are expected?

A: Because this is a new service model and transit ridership overall has been impacted by COVID-19, we don’t have a specific ridership estimate at this time.

Q: Will bike racks be available on the vehicles? 

A: Yes

Q: What are the anticipated average wait times? 

A: 15 to 20 minutes is the average expected wait time but wait times will fluctuate based on demand and will be displayed at the time a trip is booked.

Q: What is the timeline for the project (app development, vehicle delivery, service starting, etc.)?

A: We are currently scheduled to launch the on-demand service on October 18. The on-demand program will begin operating with four vehicles, all of which will be owned and maintained by the City’s contractor, LAZ Parking. This includes three hybrid minivans seating seven passengers each and one Ford Transit van seating seven passengers plus two wheelchairs.

Q: Could this model expand to other neighborhoods in the future?

A: We plan to return to City Council in spring 2022 with an evaluation of the program and recommendations for service for summer 2022.

Q: What’s the difference with this model versus the “curb-to-curb” model, and could that eventually be incorporated?

A: Riders can travel from the Top of the World, Bluebird Canyon, and Arch Beach Heights neighborhoods to Downtown, where they can connect with the Laguna Beach Trolley or OCTA bus along Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road. The service will begin by serving specific stops in the neighborhoods and Downtown mirroring the former trolley service, with some additional stops added. 

Q: Anything else?

A: Per federal law, face coverings are required to be worn by drivers and passengers on all transit services, including on-demand, through at least January 2022.


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