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Blue Bus Official Brings Global Perspective to Santa Monica  

By Ann K. Williams
Lookout Staff

August 11, 2011 – In a coup for the Big Blue Bus transit system, Senior Service Planner Paul Casey has been awarded the Swedish Institute's Swedish-American Bicentennial Fellowship.

Casey will spend up to four weeks in Malmo, Sweden – known as the fourth most sustainable city in the world – and in Stockholm, studying their transit infrastructures and city planning with an eye toward ideas he can apply here in Santa Monica.

A graduate of the University of Chicago, and the University of Southern California, Casey has negotiated agreements with UCLA and Santa Monica College so that their students can ride the Big Blue Bus for free, upping ridership by 40 per cent.

An avid world traveller, Casey took time out of his schedule this week to answer a few of The Lookout's questions about his accomplishments in Santa Monica and his upcoming trip to Sweden.

Q: What are your achievements at the Big Blue Bus that you are the most proud of?

A: Rather than “proud” I would say that what satisfies me most is knowing that implementation of my ideas by the concerted efforts of everyone at Big Blue Bus has improved daily life for thousands of people.

Our passengers can set their alarm clocks a little later in the morning and they have a little more time in the evening to spend with their family because their bus commute takes less time.

Of course if I had to single out something more specific I would have to say negotiating the original deals with UCLA for BruinGO! and SMC for Any Line, Any Time, the unlimited ride pass programs for all students, faculty and staff.

Q: What plans for the future of the BBB do you see under your new director, Ed King?

A: That is really exciting to think about. It’s like imagining what will happen in a new millennium.

Next year, we'll implement the peak period bus lanes on Lincoln Boulevard.

When the current I-405 project is complete, an express bus route will run between the Van Nuys Metrolink station and Santa Monica/West LA. We have no practical transit link to the Valley.

Of course, EXPO has the potential to set in motion a complete change in the way we live and the demands on all transit services.

Q: What do you anticipate learning about during your fellowship in Sweden?

A: The most valuable insights are things you did not know existed prior to conducting the research. But of course I will begin with specific inquiries.

In Santa Monica, some people say, “What good will higher density development do for me!” I am intrigued that cities in Sweden have the explicit goal of preserving natural habitats and agricultural land that lie beyond their boundaries. They have chosen to build higher, on land already spoiled by humans rather than obliterating more animals and plants for low density sprawl. This is what it means to think and act both globally and locally.

Q: Any plans to see the sights as a tourist?

A: It is not possible to understand how things work without knowing the historical and cultural background of the place. What we know as “tourist sights” have become such because they are representative of a place, culture, economy and time which could include the future. I am a huge consumer of guidebooks.

Q: In the city's press release announcing your fellowship, you're said to enjoy "delving into unfamiliar situations.” Do you have an example of that, and what you learned from it?

A: I went by myself on a three-week trip I planned myself to Mali and Burkina Faso.

It was quite a sensation to make final descent under the stars and realize that the faint orange lights that suddenly appeared after hours of nothingness below were actually the cooking fires beside every dwelling defining the boundary between the Sahara and Bamako.

I walked down the exterior stairs from the safe Air France jumbo jet towards a completely dark tarmac with no terminal in sight. I took a risk I have never taken before of actually going with people who approached me in the customs area to offer me a ride service. I bet that the presence of a woman among them and the soldiers watching everyone would improve my odds.

It turned out that they were very charming, although I continued to be on the lookout for landmarks I had identified during prior research on Google Earth for the likely route between the airport and the hotel. I became more relieved each time we passed something I anticipated.

Later, for one week I trekked with a friend from Alaska who met up with me and our Dogon guide staying at villages with no electricity and no paved road access. Their technology is identical to that in the Fertile Crescent at the beginning of agriculture and permanent human settlements. Even the pottery looks like something at the Metropolitan museum from early Mesopotamia.

The biggest lesson I learned there is that the “essentials” consist of peace, clean well water and adequate rainfall. The Dogon have the essentials. Yet because of the singularity of the Dogon culture, these villagers who had never seen TV were accustomed to seeing visitors who have come from all over the world to see them.

I grew up in the south and am used to seeing machine picked cotton fields – the hasty mechanism leaves half the fibers still on the plant. In Burkina Faso, the little family plots of cotton are picked so clean by hand that I would not have known what had been on the stalks if not for my childhood memory of the shape of the plant.

In my next reincarnation, I might be a Washington lobbyist for West African cotton imports.


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