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By Shawn Raymundo
Trolley operations will return to San Clemente for weekend service beginning on May 14—two weeks earlier than what the city had initially planned.
The city council on Tuesday, April 20, voted unanimously in favor of accelerating the start date for the summertime trolley program, which never got running last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting service earlier, councilmembers believe, will provide support for local business, particularly shops and restaurants in the downtown corridor that are continuing to recover from the economic pinch of the pandemic.
“I think with COVID, we’ve been locked up; I think the community would welcome this with open arms,” Councilmember Steven Knoblock said. “I think the downtown businesses would benefit from it; I think it would be a wonderful amenity for our citizens.”
The council had initially met on April 6 to vote on restarting the program on May 28, during Memorial Day weekend, which would have coincided with the resumption of trolley service in Dana Point. The two cities share a transfer connection in Capistrano Beach on Camino de Estrella.
After hearing from the local business community, Mayor Pro Tem Gene James instead proposed that the city get the service launched two weeks ahead of schedule, asking city staff to come back to the council with a report on such a plan.
The cost to operate the trolleys for those two additional weekends will cost $18,500, Deputy Public Works Director Ziad Mazboudi explained to the council on Tuesday night. Those funds, he said, are already budgeted and, therefore, wouldn’t require an additional appropriation.
According to the city, 90% of the costs to run the program is funded through grants from the Orange County Transportation Authority, which plans for operations to occur from Memorial Day weekend through the end of September.
Mazboudi said OCTA is open to consider a minor change to the scope of the grants for the city, potentially providing a reimbursement for the $18,500. However, he added, that approval “is not guaranteed.”
“Even if not approved for OCTA grant reimbursement, the city’s existing approved budget will be sufficient, because the trolley would only operate weekends until late June, resulting in an overall lower cost, which will still be within the approved total budget,” the city said in its report.
When operations begin in mid-May, the trolley will only run on weekends (Fridays through Sundays) until June 25. At that point, the service will run daily for the duration of the program, ending on Sept. 26.
To follow state and federal health guidelines, ridership on the trolleys will be limited to 50% capacity, and passengers will be required to wear face masks aboard the vehicles. For San Clemente’s trolleys, 50% capacity means about a dozen passengers.
The city has previously noted that the trolleys could allow for full capacity by mid-June, when the state is hoping to have all economic sectors fully reopened. At full capacity, the trolleys can accommodate 26 seating spaces, with room for some to stand.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.