San Luis Obispo’s Old Town Trolley might not be going “ding, ding, ding” down Monterey Street for much longer.
A common sight for downtown San Luis Obispo visitors since July 1990, the trolley’s ridership has decreased in recent years, causing the Promotional Coordinating Committee (PCC) to pull funding on the attraction.
For the rest of this year, the city’s transit division is paying for it out of its budget to keep it going, transit assistant Dee Lawson said.
With a fresh coat of forest green paint, the trolley-converted bus makes its 15-to-20-minute loop down Monterey Street to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening during the summer.
“Mostly what the trolley is for is the tourists, but there are a lot of locals that like to ride it,” Lawson said. “It’s fun, especially for the little kids.”
While Lawson said there’s really probably no real advantage to having the trolley, it does help during congested Farmers’ Market nights.
“It makes it easier for (tourists) and even locals that might live in the trolley area to not have to worry about parking,” Lawson said. “Me personally, I know I’d take the bus or trolley before driving on Thursdays.”
The holiday trolley is more geared toward locals, Lawson said, and runs between the three parking structures downtown from Thanksgiving to Christmas. By showing a parking stub to the driver, up to four people can ride for free, according to Lawson.
It’s not a big route, Lawson said, and at a cost of 50 cents a ride (25 cents for seniors), the trolley earns about $1,000 a month, but costs an average of $3,800 to operate.
“That amount of money is just going to dwindle because right now we’re at a Thursday and Saturday-only schedule, and come Nov. 1, it’s going to be a Thursday-only,” Lawson said. “So if we can’t secure some funding by next spring, or at least find a way to get our ridership up, the trolley will just probably go away. Which would be really sad, because it is kind of iconic to the city.”
Lawson said the trolley encapsulates San Luis Obispo’s quiet, old-town vibe.
“You know, the first time I ever came to this town I saw the trolley,” Lawson said. “And it just seemed to fit in and go with the mood and the atmosphere and what SLO is trying to portray as a nice, little town. Even before I had this job I loved the trolley, and I’d just hate to see it go.”
Even with a limited route and lost funding, the trolley still attracts many riders on Thursday nights.
Jonathan Ellis, a driver-in-training, said Thursday the trolley was so crowded that at some points it was standing room only.
“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of locals because the route is a short circulator,” Ellis said, adding the trolley draws in tourists staying on Monterey Street’s “Hotel Row” who don’t want to take a taxi or walk to and from downtown.
First-time rider Jeffrey Knight, visiting from Austin, Texas, agreed.
“I’m stuffed on barbecue,” Knight said. “The thought of walking up hills is too daunting.”
Knight said while he found the trolley very quaint, “It’s the ‘slow’ trolley. You don’t take it if you’re late to work.”