A free, on-demand transit service is gearing up to start this fall on the city’s former neighborhood trolley routes.
By Sharon Stello
Locals looking to get downtown will soon have a new transportation option available. A free, on-demand transit service will begin as a pilot program this fall using three former neighborhood trolley routes. In late July, the Laguna Beach City Council approved the plan, which will allow riders to request a ride either by phone or through an app with an expected wait time of 15 to 20 minutes for pickup.
The shared ride service would run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, extending to 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays during the summer (if still offered then); the service won’t be available on Sundays. The on-demand vehicles will be equipped with bike racks for those who want to pedal around town after hopping off the van.
Here, Michael Litschi, the city’s deputy director of Public Works, Transit and Parking, shares some details on the upcoming service.
When will the program start?
Michael Litschi: We are currently scheduled to launch the on-demand service on Oct. 18.
Why did the city want to offer this pilot transit program?
ML: 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. 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.
Since it’s a pilot program, do you know yet when it will end?
ML: We plan to return to [the] City Council in spring 2022 with an evaluation of the program and recommendations for service for summer 2022.
How far can riders go with this service?
ML: 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—[Orange County Transportation Authority]—bus along Coast Highway and Laguna Canyon Road.
Which app and phone number should be used to request a ride?
ML: Residents will be able to request a ride using a mobile app, select their preferred pickup and drop-off location along the routes, and track their vehicle’s progress, similar to ride-sharing 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 [service] … will be accessed through the existing Laguna Beach Trolley app [and] the … 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.
What kind of vehicles will be used for this service and how many seats are on each one?
ML: 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.
How many vehicles will be used for the service and how many will be running at the same time?
ML: A total of four [will be used] to start—three operating at one time with one spare.
Riders can expect a wait time of 15 to 20 minutes for the van to arrive and pick them up?
ML: Yes, that is the average expected wait time, but wait times will fluctuate based on demand and will be displayed [in the app] at the time a trip is booked.
Is this a door-to-door service, where the driver could pick you up at your house and drop you off at a business?
ML: No, the service will begin by serving specific stops in the neighborhoods and downtown, mirroring the former trolley service, with some additional stops added.
Since the pandemic is ongoing, will masks be required to ride?
ML: Yes, 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.
Anything else you want people to know?
ML: We look forward to the community’s feedback on this new service.