The Gronquist girls—Sierra, 4, and Audrey, 6 — and their parents were about to end their five-day visit to Cambria about 1 p.m. Saturday, July 17. But Sierra still hadn’t done what she most wanted to do on the vacation: ride Cambria’s Otter Trolley.
As the Santa Barbara family boarded the perky green-and-red vehicle, dad Tim Gronquist said, “For five days straight, Sierra’s been asking to ride on the trolley.”
Where did they want to go? Wherever the trolley was going.
During a two-hour period that day, the Gronquists were among a dozen people who rode the summertime conveyance, plus a reporter from The Cambrian. And in that statistic lies the primary problem for the public-transit system: not enough riders.
Aimee Wyatt of Cambria, spokeswoman for Regional Transit Authority (RTA), said that this summer the trolley is carrying an average of 50 passengers a day, and about double that on holidays.
Full-time driver David King thinks few visitors know where or when the trolley stops or where it goes. The trolley shares most of its stops with the RTA’s Route 12 bus, and that schedule is the only one posted permanently on the signposts.
A reporter attempting to catch a trolley ride on the July 4 weekend arrived at scheduled stop early and stayed late, but no trolley showed. RTA policy says the trolley is
allowed to be a bit late— due perhaps to heavy traffic or having to load lots of passengers, a bicycle
or wheelchair — but drivers aren’t supposed to arrive and leave a stop early.
The service schedule changed in May, due to budget constraints and too few riders. Rides used to be free and now there’s a fee ($1 for a ride in Cambria to $3 for an all-day pass). Now, the trolley only runs in summer and on some holiday weekends, plus the Art and Wine Festival weekend in January. The hour-long route was shortened to a half-hour route, and no longer includes the western part of Lodge Hill west of Highway 1.
Four trips a day were added to the Hearst Castle Visitor Center and
plans call for a loop through Old San Simeon Village to be added today, July 22. So far, the four Hearst Castle trips have only drawn a total of about five riders a day, one-quarter the targeted goal of 20 riders, or five per trip.
When David and Donna Plumley of Pasadena flagged down the trolley in West Village during their two-day visit to Cambria,
they had no idea where the trip would take them. Like Sierra Gronquist, they just wanted to ride — preferably to somewhere near an ice-cream
shop. “It’s great leaving the car and not having to drive,” he said. Donna Plumley added that “we like to try public transportation in all the different places we go. It’s so much more relaxing.”
Spreading the word
Wyatt has added informational displays in some motels and put laminated schedules on the trolley/ bus stop sign posts. The Cambria Community Services district included trolley schedules in this month’s utility bill mailing. Wyatt and her drivers did pre-season, informational walkabouts to area lodgings, and RTA has participated in several chamber of commerce mixers.
Local high-schoolers Patience Robbins and Ish Ochoa take the trolley to and from San Simeon almost every day. Debra Kinsley and Cal Poly student Caitlyn Bitto of Cambria rely heavily on the service to get to work.
That will change after Labor Day when RTA stops offering regular trolley service until next summer, although Route 12 bus service continues and may even expand a bit soon.
Kinsley hopes the trolley will go back to being offered year round. “The trolley is an asset to the community,” she said. “We need it.”
Young Sierra and Audrey Gronquist, clearly delighted with their trolley trip, seemed to agree. Tim Gronquist said with a laugh that his daughters had enjoyed the brief stop at the Castle Visitor Center, but “were much more excited about getting back to ride the trolley again.”