LA JOLLA — It's the best bargain in town. And probably the best-kept secret. It's a 25-cent ride on the La Jolla Scenic Trolley.
From I Magnin & Co. to La Jolla Cove, from the wealth of Wall Street to the beauty of Coast Boulevard, the rubber-tired trolley runs its route through the congested village traffic from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. six days a week.
The month-old transit service has a long way to go to rival its downtown counterpart, the San Diego Trolley, which recently celebrated its 20-millionth passenger and transports 500,000 riders a month. Apparently, only a few citizens in the Jewel City know that the La Jolla Trolley plies their streets, hauling surfers to Tourmaline Beach, dropping bridge players at the Cove, depositing tourists at the beach and shuttling senior citizens to and fro.
Although its stated purpose is to circle the La Jolla village commercial area in an erratic loop, dropping shoppers at the doors of the stores belonging to members of the newly formed Merchants Assn., the trolley has taken on the demeanor of a neighborhood bar, where everybody knows everyone else and where the latest local happenings and gossip are swapped on a first name basis.
Mary Van Duine, the driver of the multicolored vehicle, admits that La Jolla's trolley is less than a success so far. But, she pointed out, it has only been in operation since July 27 when it replaced a van that shuttled oldsters to their clubs and meetings and youngsters to school. The young and old still makeup the bulk of the trolley riders.
As Van Duine sees it, "we've got to attract more drivers to ride the trolley, even if it means changing the route" which zigs and zags through the village along Prospect, Silverado, Fay, Pearl, Cave and Wall streets, and Girard, Herschel and Ivanhoe avenues.
"There just isn't any parking in La Jolla," she said, predicting that in that fact lies the future of the trolley. "If we can just get people to park outside the village and take the trolley downtown, we'll be a success."
Some member stores of the sponsoring Merchants Assn. still aren't quite sure just when and where the trolley runs. The library and the post office--La Jolla's two most popular gathering places--could offer an inquirer no help in finding a schedule. The La Jolla Town Council office had run out of the elusive trolley schedules.
The trolley, which actually is a small bus decorated like the streetcars of yesteryear, also makes junkets to the beach and south to retirement complexes along La Jolla Boulevard five times a day. The 45-minute expanded trips are the ones which serve most of the seniors and the surfers. The remainder of the 10-hour day is devoted to 15-minute business-loop trips for shoppers.
The 25-cent fare does not begin to pay the tab for operation of the trolley. So, merchants have purchased advertising on the outsides and insides of the trolley and the Florence Riford Foundation added a $6,000 subsidy to give the trolley at least three months of life.
When the Riford grant runs out at the end of October, Councilman Bill Mitchell is proposing that the City of San Diego subsidize the system with $2,000 a month from transient occupancy tax funds.
Bob Trettin, a Mitchell aide, said that the city now spends $25,000 a year to subsidize the "Sunrunner" bus service to Mission Beach and Pacific Beach during the summer. He said Mitchell seeks similar treatment for the La Jolla trolley from October through next June, except during December when merchants anticipate that trolley advertising will increase enough to make the operation self-supporting. Mitchell's proposal is expected to be heard by the City Council's Transportation and Land Use Committee in late September.
But, in La Jolla, even a 25-cent trolley has its critics.
Elderly riders have complained that the slatted wooden seats are too authentic a reproduction of the old streetcar seats. They want pads.
Others have criticized the trolley's lack of posts or handholds to steady riders during turns and jolts on the sometimes bumpy ride.
Some of the seniors miss the shuttle bus which the trolley replaced. "We used to be able to take the shuttle down to Alpha Beta in Pacific Beach," confessed one commuter. "Now the trolley takes a different route and we have to shop in the village (La Jolla) where grocery prices are dear."
La Jollan Lydia Cooling summed up her anger over the new trolley system in a letter to the La Jolla Light newspaper:
" . . . I would like to say that senior citizens have been robbed of their transportation . . . this 'trolley' is an ugly old bus not safe for seniors . . . I feel it is just a takeover by the merchants to get more of the tourist business and not in the interest of seniors at all."
Driver Van Duine could add a dozen complaints she has received from riders--including the problem at one retirement home where sprinklers are usually drenching the bus stop when the trolley arrives--but she has heard many more positive comments.
"Most people are wonderful. And I can remember only one student that ever gave me any trouble (when she drove the shuttle bus). He said he didn't have enough money for the fare and asked the other riders to pay it for him. Precocious? No, he was obnoxious. Imagine anyone not having 25 cents.
"I just love the route and always slow down here, right along Coast (Boulevard) because it is so beautiful. And the smells, the wonderful smells that come from the restaurants we pass.
"I think that this trolley ride must be the best bargain in town."