By Jim Tortolano
What was intended to be an historic move toward improving local transportation became history this week as the Little Saigon bus shuttle service ended on Monday.
The Westminster City Council voted 5-0 last week to terminate its role in the project, which started six months previous on Oct. 31 amidst controversy. Low ridership was cited as a principal reason for pulling the plug on the program.
The “circulator” operated in the Little Saigon district of the city, serving the busy Vietnamese business corridor along Bolsa Avenue, Magnolia Street, Brookhurst Street and Bishop Place. It was advocated by Orange County First District Supervisor Andrew Do.
It was approved by the city council, but not without some controversy.
The vote was 3-1 in favor with Councilman Margie Rice voting no and Councilman Tyler Diep absent.
Rice’s objections centered on costs, while Councilmembers Diana Carey and Sergio Contreras questioned why the project was being rolled out on Oct. 31, before planned fund-raising and advertising solicitation had begun.
“I didn’t want this moved up to before the election,” she said. “It’s political.” At the time, Do was involved in what was originally believed to be a close re-election race against Michelle Martinez, which he won.
Under the agreement with the Orange County Transportation Authority – which operated the service – if ridership levels fell below projections, the city could have to pay more than its anticipated 10 percent of the cost.
The goal for the program was to have six riders per hour within 12 months of the project but after almost six months, the average was fewer than two riders per hour. The resulting shortfall, for example, raised Westminster’s contribution for November 2016 from the anticipated $2,867 to $21,797.