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Big Blue Bus Proposes City Fee for Drivers Entering Santa Monica During Rush Hours

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

February 23, 2018 -- With ridership plummeting, the head of Big Blue Bus system suggests in a new report that the City provide more incentive to hop a bus by charging motorists a special fee if they enter Santa Monica during rush hours.

So-called “congestion pricing,” as the fee is called, is one of several proposals in the analysis of operations at BBB, which at 90 years of age finds itself imperiled by plummeting ridership and a future awash in red ink.

Such a fee -- which is being discussed in New York City and has been implemented in London, Milan, Gothenberg and Stockholm” -- would “encourage people to leave their cars and take public transit,” said BBB Director Edward King.

“By charging peak hour prices for driving, significant funds could be freed up to support transit systems and transportation improvements that support transit, bike and pedestrian mobility options,” he said.

Other proposals in the report -- which goes to the City Council Tuesday for a work session devoted to the future of the agency -- include eliminating service outside Santa Monica and scrapping lines with low ridership.

It also suggests imposing fees on commercial peer-to-peer ridesharing services such as Uber.

Big Blue Bus is the third largest municipal bus operator in Los Angeles County, although its service extends beyond the city.

Like public transit throughout the country -- especially buses -- the BBB has suffered big losses in passengers ("Ridership Plunges on Santa Monica City Buses as Expo Popularity Soars," January 17, 2018).

King said that “ridership trends this year to date do show modest growth with August, October and November showing increases from .05% to over 4%, a positive trend that indicates we may have reached bottom.”

Nonetheless, he said, the “BBB’s current level of service provided is not sustainable” and could cause a nearly $11 million deficit by the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

BBB’s reserves would be exhausted by the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the report said.

As of the last fiscal year, ridership had dropped to 13.8 million passengers. It was the seventh year of losses for BBB, with ridership plunging 27 percent alone since the 2014-2015 fiscal year, City statistics show.

The BBB’s target is to reach 20 million riders by 2020.

King said the loss of riders requires re-examining productivity. Only 45 percent of all weekday service and 38 percent of weekend service meets minimum standards of use, or 20 passengers per hour on local and certain commuter buses.

“Unless we are prepared to pare half the BBB system, we are compelled to reset the minimum “to just 12 riders.”

The BBB would eliminate services that fail to reach that mark, the report said.

Services cut due to low demand could, however, be replaced with “demand response service,” which would cost riders more to offset the BBB’s own cost.

Another possibility is a new user fee on operators such as Uber and Lyft (similar to a tax charged by Chicago). The funds could help fund mass transit.

Among the list of possible changes is eliminating service outside of Santa Monica -- or 85 percent of all BBB operations.

The system’s operating budget in the 2014-2015 fiscal year was about $65.7 million, rising to $82 million in the 2018-2019 budget, or a jump of about 26 percent. It employs 456 people.

Much of the drop in the use of public transit across Southern California is tied by experts to a rise in car ownership -- especially by low-income earners and immigrants, public transit’s core users ("UCLA Study Suggests Low-Income Riders in Santa Monica, Southern California Switching to Own Wheels," February 6, 2018).

An overhaul in 2015 at BBB meant to capitalize on the 2016 debut of Expo Light Rail in Santa Monica as a “first-and-last mile” resource failed to significantly boost ridership ("Santa Monica Big Blue Bus Makes Major Route Changes in Final Light Rail Preparations," February 17, 2016).

Train service became highly popular, but in large part at the expense of bus ridership.


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