Starting June 24, Ladysmith’s trolley will run on reduced hours for its final months of service.
It’s just not clear yet what those reduced hours will be.
As part of its budget discussions in April, Ladysmith council looked at eliminating the trolley service until BC Transit comes to town in September or operating the trolley on reduced hours of operation during the summer. At the time, council considered reducing the trolley to three days per week during the summer but ultimately decided to keep service as is.
During a special council meeting on May 13, Mayor Rob Hutchins asked council to reconsider this idea of reducing trolley service in light of additional information from staff around ridership statistics during the summer months for the past three years.
“When we dealt with this at budget time, we didn’t have this report on ridership,” said Hutchins.
Council had asked staff to provide options for the continued operation of the trolley for the summer months before the service ends on Aug. 31 and BC Transit comes to Ladysmith.
When council discussed eliminating or reducing the service, councillors felt they didn’t have all the information they wanted about past usage of the trolley in the summer of 2012, and they thought that information could help evaluate possible service adjustments for the remaining months of service.
A staff report received May 13 showed that in 2012, 4,022 riders took the trolley from June to August. This is down significantly from the 6,623 riders during that same period in 2011 and 6,641 riders in 2010.
Staff’s information showed that from June to August 2012, volume increases 25 to 35 per cent on Fridays compared to other days of the week, but otherwise, there does not seem to be a significant increase in daily traffic during particular days of the week.
Staff recommended that should council wish to scale back trolley service for the last three months rather than fully terminate the service, the trolley could run Thursday to Saturday for June to August, which would save the Town about $14,000. This would require issuing a layoff notice to one of the Town’s drivers.
Hutchins wondered if it would be feasible to keep the trolley at five days a week but reduce the hours, perhaps riding three loops a day instead of five so it would run for a six-hour period from Tuesday to Saturday.
John Manson, the Town’s director of infrastructure services, says running the trolley five days at shorter hours would be half the cost of running the trolley for the entire summer, so the savings would be similar to running a three-day service.
Coun. Duck Paterson advocated for either keeping the trolley as is or eliminating it completely.
“If we make any changes, I think it will confuse people, and the regular users, albeit there’s not a whole pile of them, but they’ve set up schedules for operating on that,” he said. “There are some people who love the trolley and some people who hate the trolley; why stir up the pot any more? If we have an on-again, off-again service, it’s just going to be confusing for the tourists as well.”
Coun. Gord Horth pointed out that the Town would most likely reduce service in any other program that was showing a decline in use like the trolley has, such as a swimming program.
“I don’t think there’s much support for eliminating it, so I think the issue really is $14,000 is significant, and I think it sends the right message that if there is less support for the service, we need to adjust our service levels accordingly,” he said “I think we should continue the service at a reduced level.”
Coun. Steve Arnett agreed.
“I’ve been 100 per cent behind the trolley from the beginning, even before being elected the first time, and it pains me that we’re losing it … but I don’t think we can defend keeping it when we could save some money and demonstrate to the community that we’re trying to be as prudent as possible and maintaining the service at a level we think is reasonable while at the same time trying to be fiscally responsible,” he said.
After some discussion, council decided to reduce the trolley service to five days a week with reduced hours to give the Town approximately $14,000 in savings over the summer and directed that the $14,000 in savings be earmarked for transit infrastructure. The specific hours are to be determined after receiving input from the business community and other stakeholders.
As for the trolley drivers, city manager Ruth Malli says the Town is complying with the terms of the collective agreement in implementing this change in service level.
Coun. Bill Drysdale was the only councillor to vote against reducing the trolley’s hours.