Editorial: SLO should keep trolleys rolling on

We understand the need for frugality in today’s economy, but we urge the city of San Luis Obispo to put the brakes on a stingy plan to eliminate weekend trolley service downtown.

Starting in September, the city intends to suspend weekend trolley operations for a year or so for savings of $26,249. The trolley will continue to operate on Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The City Council reluctantly approved the change last month, but asked the staff to reinstate the service if it could identify other ways to save money.

We hope that’s the case or, barring that, that some community organizations come to the rescue and offer to help maintain the service. After all, what kind of message will it send if the community can’t afford to spend $26,000 to provide a convenience for tourists and downtown shoppers, especially when cities are competing for sales and bed tax dollars?

Even if weekend operations have to be suspended for a time, at the very least, the service should be resumed over the Christmas holidays and during the spring and summer, when tourism picks up.

The trolley adds to the charm of downtown; it’s a convenient way for tourists and locals alike to get around, especially given the challenge of finding downtown parking; and at 25 cents a ride, it’s a fun, inexpensive activity that will keep kids entertained.

The city is working with its Tourism Committee and Business Improvement District to find some funding that will allow continued operation on weekends. We hope that works. Tourists staying at the hotels on Monterey Street are among the best customers of the trolley service, so it would make sense to dedicate some tourism dollars to maintaining the service. The city should also consider increasing the fare to 50 cents. Children could get a price break if there’s a concern that a fare increase would discourage families from riding.

Bottom line: The city should eliminate weekend trolley service only as a last resort, and we don’t believe it’s there yet. We need to keep one of SLO’s most iconic and visible symbols where it belongs —on the streets of downtown.