Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley

A 25-passenger trolley may soon be transporting Ventura residents and visitors between the city’s downtown and harbor districts.

The Downtown Ventura Partners (DVP) is leading a coalition of business groups in establishing trolley service in the city by the July 4 weekend, which also coincides with the 100th anniversary of City Hall. The trolley would be free to riders, privately operated and funded by donations and ad revenue. The standard hours of operation would be from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, making six to seven stops along the Downtown to Harbor Village route.

“This would be huge because it gets people from downtown out to the harbor, or to the South Seaward area to really engage with all the different options we have,” said Marlyss Auster, executive director of the Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau. “This is a very convenient way to move our travelers around. We’re getting so many international travelers that are accustomed to that, and we’d love to see it come alive again.”

The only snag is the $60,000 price tag attached to the used, 25-passenger trolley the DVP hopes to buy from the Santa Barbara Trolley Company. The board voted unanimously to provide $30,000 toward the purchase and has asked the city to match its contribution.


In a letter sent on May 22 to the city’s public works director, the DVP suggested the city’s matching contribution could come from the Riverpark Settlement Fund, which is specifically designated for transportation projects. The organization also noted in the letter that the Downtown Parking District is scheduled to make a full $283,000 repayment in June, and the Parking Advisory Committee unanimously voted at its May regular meeting to recommend the City Council reallocate $30,000 of these funds to go toward the trolley purchase.

City Transportation Manager Tom Mericle said that trolley funding will be an item on the June 3 City Council agenda, when the city staff recommends matching the DVP’s contribution to purchase the trolley, but only under the following conditions: The DVP has to enter, within six months of operation, a franchise agreement with the city to use the trolley on public streets. If the service does not continue past the first year, the DVP would have to return to the city the entire $30,000. If trolley service doesn’t continue past the second year, the DVP would have to return 50 percent of the matching contribution. Mericle said he is recommending the money come from the Riverpark Settlement Fund.

There have been previous attempts to establish a trolley service in Ventura, each failing after a few years, for reasons ranging from cost to ride to lack of sponsorship and financial support from downtown agencies. The DVP has met with Gold Coast Transit and Santa Barbara and Ojai trolley operators, as expressed in a letter to the city, to better understand how to make the trolley a successful enterprise — with free ridership, for example — this time around. 


“I’ve always thought some tourist-friendly transit service between those two places is a good idea,” said Mericle. “The hard part is getting people to use it.”

Mericle said that the goal would be to eventually get more trolleys operating so wait time for a trolley could average about 15 minutes.