Faced with poor ridership and a per-ride cost of about $26, the city of La Canada Flintridge is looking at possible alternatives for its troubled Dial-a-Ride program, including a shopper's shuttle along Foothill Boulevard.
At a meeting Monday, city staff presented the council with several ways of increasing the program's efficiency, including the shopping shuttle plan, using one of the vans for a fixed route and supplementing the van service with a city-subsidized taxicab service.
But some council members were concerned about shifting the focus of the program, which was intented to provide rides for residents who are unable to drive, and were reluctant to move into the area of providing public transportation.
"The Dial-a-Ride was instituted to help disabled people," Mayor Joan Feehan said. "Now all of a sudden we're talking about using it to take people up and down Foothill Boulevard."
The shopping shuttle would use one of the two Dial-a-Ride vans as a fixed-route shuttle along Foothill Boulevard between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., starting at Jet Propulsion Laboratories and ending at Ocean View Drive in half-hour increments.
Ideally, according to the city's plan, people downtown would take the shuttle instead of driving their cars to lunch. But Feehan questioned whether the shuttle would even be used.
"I'm not confident in the idea of a shuttle," she said. "I'm not convinced people are going to get on that big Dial-a-Ride van and go up and down the street."
The state-funded program, which was started in December, 1986, was intended to provide free rides for residents of La Canada who are disabled or are older than 60. The rides have generally been for medical purposes and grocery shopping.
But only 4% of the potential riders use the service, and more than half of those riders only use the system occasionally, leading some council members to question whether there really is a need for the service.
"It's abundantly clear that the city should provide for people who are really in need," Councilman Warren Hillgren said. "But I have reservations about creating a need that isn't there. We need to put certain guidelines on not getting into the role of providing transportation for everyone."
Councilmen Ed Phelps and Chris Valente supported the shuttle proposal, saying that if the idea was to use transportation funds more efficiently, the goals of the Dial-a-Ride program should be reexamined and possibly expanded to include transportation for all residents.
City staff will research the proposals further, and the alternatives for the program, which is funded by a 0.5% sales tax under Proposition A, will be discussed at the next meeting.
According to a city staff report, the program is plagued with other inefficiencies. Although the number of people using the service is small, appointments are required for even the shortest trips and some riders say they have to make appointments two or three days in advance. And staff reports seem to show that a small group of the same residents are using the vans.
"The same people are using it, and it's become theirs," council member Chris Valente said at the council meeting Monday night. "We need to blossom out. We need to open the doors to other people."