By Shawn Raymundo
The city’s free trolley service saw a ridership of more than 173,000 passengers this past summer, with the most popular stops being the San Clemente Pier and the Outlets at San Clemente, according to a report from the city.
This year’s trolley program also saw the addition of the new Northern Blue line, which offered service to riders from the Outlets to Camino de Estrella at Calle Verano, where it connected with the city of Dana Point’s trolley.
According to the city, the Downtown Red Line trolley, which ran daily from Friday, May 24, through Sunday, Sept. 29, had a total ridership of 151,688 passengers. The Blue Line, which didn’t get rolling until July 8, when the vehicles were delivered to the city, saw a total of 21,799 total riders through Sept. 29.
Based on the city’s findings from the Summer 2019 trolley program, the Downtown Red Line’s stops at the Outlets and the pier made up 64% of the passenger boardings—36% at the pier and 28% at the Outlets.
Similarly, one of the Northern Blue Line’s most popular pick-up and drop-off locations was the Outlets, which accounted for 48% of the route’s total boardings, the city stated. The Dana Point connection was another popular destination for the route, as it represented 25% of the boardings.
The city noted that while the trolley service “operated well,” the Downtown Red Line did encounter a few hiccups over the summer, such as capacity issues during special events, holidays and peak weekend hours.
“The downtown redline trolleys often reached maximum capacity (i.e., no seating or standing room), requiring drivers to turn away new passengers,” the report stated. “To address this capacity issue, a new trolley vehicle would be needed.”
Other issues that arose this year with the addition of the northern route were complaints from residents near the Camino De Estrella at the Calle Verano stop, as well as the Camino Capistrano at Camino Mira Costa stop.
“Dana Point and San Clemente staff received complaints from nearby residences about noise from the trolley vehicles, and loud and disruptive behavior from people presumably waiting to board the trolleys, including trespassing onto nearby private properties,” the city reported on the Calle Verano stop.
To resolve the issue, city council voted on Tuesday, Nov. 5, to eliminate that stop, ending the route at its Avenida Mira Costa stop by the Sprouts shopping center. The city of Dana Point, the report added, has agreed to reroute its trolley so it reaches that stop as well, making it the new transfer location.
The city also noted that Camino Capistrano at Mira Costa stop is located between two residential driveways, which had inhibited one resident’s ability “to enter and exit his driveway when the trolley was present.
The council’s vote also approved a plan to adjust the location of that stop to a location that will be later be determined by the city of Dana Point.
According to the city, the annual cost to operate the trolley in the current fiscal year is $403,567. The majority of that cost—$362,015—is coming from Project V grants the city received from the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA).
OCTA’s Project V program allows local jurisdictions to apply for grant funding toward the development of community-based local transit services. The program is also meant to help municipalities meet transportation needs of the area.
OCTA’s trolley programs require a minimum of 10 riders per hour in order to continue to receive funding and explore more route options. During the first year of a new route, however, the minimum ridership is 6 per hour.
During this summer’s trolley program, the Red Line had about 38 riders per hour, while the Blue Line had 12.6 riders per hour. In total for both lines, there were 30.3 riders per hour.
The city’s Project V funds are set to expire in fiscal year 2024. The city noted that another round of grant-funding applications to the OCTA is currently open through Dec. 12 and that it would likely behoove the city to submit an application because its current funding will expire during the next grant-funding period.
The application to extend the funding for the trolley program could allow the city to acquire an additional vehicle that’s likely to help mitigate the capacity issues the city saw this summer.
The city further explained in the report that previous talks of adding another trolley route to the southern portion of the city should be tabled, because the new northern route didn’t surpass the minimum grant requirements by a large margin.
At the council’s direction, city staff will also prepare a report that looks into a trolley service route that can potentially service inland residents in the Talega area, as well as review a program in which people can rent out a trolley for private events.
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.