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OPINION -- Free Big Blue Bus Service Can Ease Traffic Congestion

By Harriet Epstein

The City of Santa Monica is looking in all of the wrong places to reduce car traffic. The first and most important thing it can do is put a moratorium on building.

Yet year after year the City Council makes exceptions to its own zoning requirements to approve bigger, more dense apartment buildings (see Lincoln Boulevard near I10) and commercial buildings.

It’s now considering a huge hotel/office complex at Arizona and Fifth Street which would add even more traffic to a congested downtown ("Proposed Downtown Development Could Reinvigorate Slow Growth Movement," November 6, 2019).

Next, the city is planning to tear down two parking garages on Fourth Street, hoping to discourage people from driving into downtown. Third Street Promenade shopkeepers can’t be too happy about that prospect.

And, of course, there is the experiment with e-scooters that was supposed to replace “millions” of car rides. That’s another of the city’s pipe dreams ("E-Scooters Get Mixed Results As City's 16-Month Pilot Program Nears End," November 5, 2019).

Scooter riders surveyed are naturally motivated to lie when someone asks whether they would have taken a car instead. They want to keep their toys.

Even if the scooters make a slight dent in car use, they are useless for shopping and can’t meaningfully ease congestion.

If the City really wants to have an impact on reducing traffic on our congested streets, it should turn the Big Blue Bus into a free service.

Taxpayers are already subsidizing the lines. Fares cover only 15 percent of the operating costs. We pick up the other 85 percent.

Left alone, the BBB is slowly losing so many riders each year, it will soon be only a vehicle for driver employment ("Big Blue Bus Continues to Lose Riders," November 21, 2019).

On route after route, the buses convey a handful or no riders, except for the Pico line that brings students from Los Angeles to Santa Monica College.

By making the routes free, a shopper from the edge of the City could patronize the Third Street Promenade, pick up groceries on her way home and not have to make two separate car trips, what with the hassle of parking and paying ever-increasing garage fees.

There is precedence for free service. It’s all over Europe (google “cities with free bus service.”}

But more to the point, there are 39 U.S. cities that offer full or partial free service. They range from Boston to Pittsburgh to Scottsdale and Tacoma.

Santa Monica prides itself on being a “cutting edge” city. Why not add free bus service to its list of experiments?

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