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 are spending an extra $98,000 to run trolley look-alikes instead of conventional buses in the free transit system the city launched 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.
Shopping Made Easier
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 $1.14 million 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 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 do not run on one of the city's major streets, Garfield Avenue, and travel on only a small portion of Atlantic Boulevard.
No Stop at Mall
And while city trolleys serve the Atlantic Square shopping center, they do 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 estimates that the system will attract 40,000 to 60,000 passengers a year.
Most San Gabriel Valley cities, including Monterey Park, offer dial-a-ride service to the elderly and handicapped, using vans to carry passengers to destinations by appointment.
Some also offer dial-a-ride service to the public, but few have their own bus service along fixed routes. Cities that have run fixed-route systems report mixed results.
The cities of Pomona, Claremont, San Dimas and La Verne, through a joint transit authority, inaugurated a fixed-route service in November, but ridership has been so light--about 30 passengers a day--that the need for the service is being reconsidered.
The four cities also run a joint dial-a-ride program and it has been much more successful, averaging 400 passengers a day.
The city of Duarte began running a free shuttle bus on a loop through the city two years ago. The service proved so popular that a second bus recently was added to travel the same route in the opposite direction.
Duarte City Manager Kenneth Caresio said ridership is strong, especially in the summer. The buses carried more than 8,300 passengers in May.
"It's surprising how our public really took to it," Caresio said.
Azusa began running a 22-passenger van on a loop through the city in December. Terri Slimmer, transportation coordinator, said the service is attracting 550 to 600 passengers a week.