REDONDO BEACH — Buses designed to resemble turn-of-the-century trolley cars could begin running here in June as part of a major expansion into Southern California by an Arizona-based transportation firm.
The "trackless trolley" shuttle bus service would be a completely private undertaking, with taxpayers providing no subsidies and the city exerting only limited control over operations, according to city officials and representatives from American Trolley Lines of Mesa, Ariz.
The Redondo Beach service--and similar routes proposed by the firm in Santa Monica, Newport Beach and West Hollywood--would be the first private transit system of its kind in the Los Angeles area, city and local transit officials said.
Existing "trolley" bus and other shuttle services, while often operated by private firms, are typically subsidized by municipalities through federal grants or Proposition A transit taxes, said Usha Viswanathan, spokeswoman for the Southern California Rapid Transit District.
In the South Bay, for example, shuttle buses in the style of old-fashioned trolleys will begin service next month in Lawndale. The service will be operated by a private firm, but it will be funded by the city's share of county transit taxes. A dial-a-van service operated on the Palos Verdes Peninsula is also funded by the transit tax.
The American Trolley Lines services will be financed through advertising sales, fares and charter fees, said David Shumway, the firm's president. Shumway, who operates colorful buses in Phoenix and several other Arizona cities, said that 70% of revenues in those cities comes from advertising on the interior and exterior of the vehicles.
June 1 Starting Date
"This is a dream come true," said Redondo City Manager Timothy Casey, who last week prepared a resolution for the City Council that allows the service to begin June 1. The council, which gave conceptual approval to the shuttle service two weeks ago, is expected to give the final go-ahead Monday.
"Transit systems are notorious money-losers," Casey said. "If the private sector wants to assume the responsibility, we should let them."
Redondo business leaders and city officials have long wanted an intra-city shuttle service that would link Redondo's major commercial and recreational centers, Casey said. In fact, a city-run shuttle service subsidized by transit taxes was one proposal city officials planned to consider next month during a meeting on how to spend nearly $1 million in Proposition A money, he said.
"To the extent that Mr. Shumway is not asking for Proposition A funds, this might be a better way to test the shuttle program," Casey said. "It seems like a rather risk-free opportunity for the city."
Under a proposal submitted to the city by American Trolley Lines, the firm will begin the service with two 30-passenger buses running from Riviera Village to the South Bay Galleria, including stops in the King Harbor area and the Artesia Boulevard shopping district. There will be about 35 stops along the route.
A one-way ticket will cost 50 cents, with no reductions for the elderly or students. The buses will operate Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The $100,000 buses will be serviced on Mondays, Shumway said.
A costumed driver will operate the vehicle, clanging a brass bell at stops and intersections, he said. "We move people in a fun, unique and inexpensive way," he said.
The proposed route, which Shumway estimates will take each trolley 30 minutes to complete, was developed after talks with the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce as well as city officials. The right to change the route, however, lies exclusively with the transit firm.
Two weeks ago, when the city first received the proposal for "trackless-trolley" buses, City Atty. Gordon Phillips warned that the proposal might face Southern California Rapid Transit District opposition because of possible duplication of RTD routes.
Two RTD lines--No. 42, which runs from Los Angeles to Westchester to Redondo Beach, and No. 232, which runs from Long Beach to Los Angeles International Airport--would be affected by the new bus service, RTD spokeswoman Viswanathan said.
The duplication of service, however, is less than one mile on each route--so RTD officials do not think that Shumway intends to "pick the cherries" from the transit district's established lines, she said.
"This is a very limited service and our initial indication is that it would not conflict with the district's plans," she said.
Viswanathan said RTD officials met with representatives from American Trolley Lines last week to discuss the proposal. Unless the "trackless-trolley" bus route expands drastically in the coming years, the transit district will not object to it, she said.
Shumway and city officials, moreover, predicted the service would supplement rather than compete with RTD buses. "We don't claim to be RTD," Shumway said. "We take a different type of customer."