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West Hollywood to launch free "entertainment shuttle" service on Santa Monica Boulevard

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Just weeks after the successful implementation of the "Hillcrest Trolley" shuttle program, the City of West Hollywood has approved a pilot program for an "Entertainment Shuttle" to offer a similar service along the city's main thoroughfare, Santa Monica Boulevard.

While the San Diego neighborhood of Hillcrest was first to implement such a service, the idea has been on the table in the Los Angeles County city since at least 2011. At that time, West Hollywood leaders directed city staff to explore options for providing such a service, which aims to alleviate traffic, increase safety, and provide an alternative to driving drunk.

Staff presented the results of their research and recommendations for program implementation to the city council at its Monday meeting, which voted unanimously to approve a six-month pilot program beginning July 1.

While there were a couple of options for routes presented to the council, a linear route along Santa Monica Boulevard was approved for the trial period, which will make 15-minute runs from Doheny Drive to Fairfax Avenue, also stopping at the West Hollywood Public Library's parking deck on San Vicente Boulevard.

The free shuttle service will operate on Friday and Saturday evenings from 8 pm to 3 am, and cost the city $62,000 to rent two buses. An additional $25,000 has been allocated to market the program.

If the pilot program is successful, city staff members recommended looking at ways to turn the shuttles into a complete "WeHo-themed experience."

Some council members expressed concern about a number of issues, including the necessity of the program, safety, and the route.

After hearing many of his colleagues and city staff say that the shuttle program needs to be marketed effectively to its target audience - young people who patronize the city's many nightlife establishments - Councilmember John Heilman said "I worry about the discussion about this being a vehicle that is 'sexy' or 'hot.' What, are we going to have limos with stripper poles in them? Is that what we're really trying to target? I thought it was for responsible people looking for a transportation option."

Heilman noted that the city previously offered a free service using the city's CityLine buses, but other councilmembers noted that the demographic targeted for the service is not likely to get onto traditional modes of public transportation.

Councilmember John D'Amico suggested that city staff work hard to get the shuttle service running in time for the L.A. Pride celebration, taking place in West Hollywood June 7-9.

While the program isn't scheduled to begin until July 1, D'Amico said it would be nice to showcase the service to the nearly 400,000 people who descend upon the area during Pride, which might encourage them to come back and visit again.

City leaders will appoint a task force of residents and business owners to provide recommendations on the shuttle service and report back to the city council after the pilot period expires. The city's next step will be to issue a RFP to transportation companies who are interested in bidding on providing the shuttle service to the city.

As for San Diego's Hillcrest trolley, none of the councilmembers referenced it during their remarks, but during the public comment section, WeHo resident Sam Borrelli told the council that the program has launched successfully in Hillcrest, and sent information to city staff about it so they could "take a page out of what [Hillcrest] does."

More details about the launch of the shuttle service will be posted as it becomes available.