Westminster Ends Little Saigon Circulator Bus Because of Low Ridership

A free circulator bus in Little Saigon funded by the Orange County Transportation Authority and the city of Westminster is no more, after low ridership prompted the Westminster City Council to cut funding for the project last month.

The free bus, which operated seven days a week from 10 am to 6 pm, ended May 1 after a six month test run, because it garnered far fewer riders — less than two riders each hour — and cost far more than officials expected.

Officials pitched the idea of the free bus, which takes a circular route through Little Saigon in Garden Grove and Westminster, early last year as a way to manage traffic congestion and connect residential communities to popular commercial zones in Little Saigon.

The city was awarded a $3.7 million matching grant from the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), which Westminster would receive over seven years as long as it maintained a ridership of at least six riders per hour.

The grant would have paid for up to 90 percent of infrastructure, operation and maintenance costs, a maximum of $550,000 annually.

But because of low ridership, Westminster was required to pay a for a larger share of the project’s cost, which was “significantly higher than the anticipated 10 percent,” according to a staff report.

“For example, Westminster’s contribution for November 2016 is $21,797 (76% share of the project’s monthly cost), rather than the anticipated cost allocation of $2,867 (10% of the project’s monthly cost),” according to the staff report.

The city has spent roughly $148,000 in Air Quality Management funds in the first six months of the program.

“I’m very happy to see it stop,” Councilwoman Margie Rice said at an April 26 council meeting.  “In my opinion it was a political thing at the time. People didn’t want it. It was something to make the supervisor look good.”

All five county supervisors sit on the OCTA board. Rice didn’t specify which supervisor she meant. Westminster is represented by Supervisor Andrew Do.

The circulator bus began operating just before the November 2016 election, on October 31.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.