Wednesday, June 29, 2011 | The Irvine City Council Tuesday night approved two new bus routes that would serve the area surrounding the Irvine Spectrum.

The new routes would be in addition to existing iShuttle routes that connect the Tustin Metrolink train station with the Irvine Business Complex, a large, mixed commercial and residential area surrounding John Wayne Airport. The council majority sees the iShuttle as part of a future public transit system that could eventually allow Irvine residents to travel around town without needing a car.

But results for the shuttle-bus have so far been mixed. It is used mostly by people who commute into the city, and in 2009 some midday routes were canceled due to lack of ridership.

Previously, iShuttle’s funding came from the city’s general fund. But Mayor Sukhee Kang in November brokered a deal with the Orange County Transportation Authority to fund 90 percent of the bus system’s existing routes and the two future routes.

Essentially, the city traded $121 million in grant funds for a promise that the transportation authority would fund the iShuttle for the next 30 years. In 1990, the city obtained and set aside the grant money through Proposition 116, a statewide initiative that funds rail construction and improvements, but not local transit systems like the shuttle-bus.

According to a staff report, the rest of the funding for the shuttle-bus will come from three-year partnerships with Capital Group, which with 2,350 employees is the largest employer served by one of the new routes, and Spectrumotion, a nonprofit that promotes and subsidizes alternative transportation in the city.

Kang said the iShuttle “could be a model for an Orange County public transportation vision for the next 20 to 30 years. So I think we have accomplished a very important milestone by activating and really using this iShuttle system.”

In other council action, Councilman Larry Agran’s proposal to conduct an early presidential preference vote in Irvine became moot upon news that Gov. Jerry Brown probably wasn’t going to hold a special tax election in the fall, which would have provided an opportunity for the nonbinding presidential vote.

Nonetheless, the proposal rekindled old resentment by Councilman Steven Choi, a Republican,of the Democratic majority’s control of the council agenda.

Choi said that, for example, a few years ago he was not given the opportunity to place a nonbinding resolution supporting a free trade agreement with South Korea on the agenda. But Kang placed the item on the agenda a short time later, and the resolution passed. “Depending upon who puts the item on the agenda, it becomes a municipal matter,” Choi said.

He then argued that the early presidential vote would make the city a “laughing stock.”

“As far as I’m concerned, this topic is not essentially a local matter, it is a national matter,” Choi said.

Agran assured Choi that had Choi proposed the presidential preference vote, Agran would have supported it.

“It just seemed to me that this was a reasonable idea to put before us,” Agran said.

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