Will people who normally shun public transit ride a bus if it looks like a trolley?
City officials in Monterey Park think so, and that's why they will spend an extra $98,000 to run trolley look-alikes instead of conventional buses when a free city transit system begins operating Monday.
"It's kind of a novelty," said Mayor G. Monty Manibog, who expressed the hope that vehicles cloaked in nostalgia will attract enough riders to ease the city's traffic congestion.
Manibog said that many people will want to ride the trolleys at least once because of their appearance. Then, the city hopes, passengers will find that the trolleys are convenient and become regular riders.
Tempting people out of their cars may be difficult: A study last year showed that only 6% of the city's residents take public transportation to work. The study showed that 7% of the households are without a car but that 58% have two or more.
Manibog said that he can envision many occasions when people would be better off riding a trolley than driving a car. For example, he said, "parking is a nightmare" in shopping centers on Atlantic Boulevard, and the street itself is often choked with traffic. Many shopping trips would be easier by trolley, he said.
The fact that rides are free is expected to keep the 21-passenger trolleys near capacity much of the time, said Leonard Normand, recreation and parks director, who oversees the transit system.
The city is paying Community Transit Services Inc. of Santa Ana $1,144,944 to provide the trolley service for three years. The money comes from the city's share of a countywide half-cent sales tax for transportation.
Community Transit Services offered to provide conventional buses for $98,000 less than the city will spend for trackless trolleys during the three-year contract.
The Monterey Park trolleys are similar to those in use by transit systems in Manhattan Beach, Lawndale, the Fairfax district of Los Angeles and many tourist areas, but they are new to the San Gabriel Valley.
The vehicles, painted in distinctive red, yellow and green, bear the name Monterey Park Trolley Co. as well as individual names chosen from entries submitted by children in a Name the Trolley contest.
The names are Roadrunner, Sunshine Express, Liberty Trolley, Spirit of Monterey Park and Freedom Trolley. "Everything but a streetcar named Desire," said Normand.
The city has established five routes, all radiating from City Hall and covering most neighborhoods in the city. Buses will run at intervals of 25 to 40 minutes from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The city has designated 115 bus stops.
Chris J. Jeffers, city support services manager, said that because of spending restrictions on transportation funds, the routes have to avoid duplicating bus service already offered by the Southern California Rapid Transit District and Montebello Bus Lines.
As a result, the city trolleys will not run on one of the city's major streets, Garfield Avenue, and will travel on only a small portion of Atlantic Boulevard.
No Stop at Mall
And while city trolleys will serve the Atlantic Square shopping center, they will not stop at Atlantic Boulevard's crowded Monterey Mall, which houses popular restaurants and theaters.
Jeffers said that the city hopes eventually to find a way to serve all shopping areas.
Normand said that the city will run the system for three months and then reevaluate hours and routes. "Nothing is fixed in concrete," he said.
Normand estimated that the system will attract 40,000 to 60,000 passengers a year.
Rosemead to Begin Service
Meanwhile, the city of Rosemead also will inaugurate a bus service Monday through Community Transit Services Inc., but it will not be as ambitious as Monterey Park's and will not be free.
Two 21-passenger buses will travel to all of the city's major business districts from the Montebello Town Center at the Pomona Freeway in the south to Valley Boulevard in the north, and including Rosemead Square and Garvey Avenue stores. The main north-south route will be Walnut Grove Avenue.
Tim Kerr, executive assistant to the Rosemead city manager, said buses will run at 30-minute intervals from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Fares will be 50 cents to the public and 25 cents to holders of city dial-a-ride cards, which are restricted to senior citizens and the handicapped.
Turned Down Trolleys
Kerr said that Rosemead considered using trolley look-alikes, but "we didn't feel like spending the money" on an unproven bus service.
"We think the ridership will be there, but we're not sure," he said. Kerr said that he believes most of the riders will be students, the elderly and women whose husbands have taken the family's only car to work.
The system is budgeted at $140,000 the first year, Kerr said.
Most San Gabriel Valley cities, including Monterey Park and Rosemead, offer dial-a-ride service to the elderly and handicapped, using vans to carry passengers to destinations by appointment.