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Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus Poised to Put Brakes on Declining Ridership

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

October 28, 2015 -- After five years of declining ridership, Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus system is poised to start posting gains, a year-end performance report found.

The news comes as the City Council on Tuesday voted to raise basic fares by 25 cents to $1.25, a move transit officials say will offset new costs as the system readies itself for a boost in riders with the extension of the region’s Expo light rail to Santa Monica next year.

Officials also say the hike will more closely bring Santa Monica in line with what other area bus systems charge.

BBB ridership totaled 18,748,869 for the fiscal year ending July 31, a 0.3 percent reduction from the previous year, according to the report to the City Council by Edward F. King, the City’s director of transit services.

But that is a smaller decline than usual and shows “a leveling off and reversal of a five-year trend of somewhat larger ridership losses,” King wrote in his October 20 report.

Santa Monica’s bus system reached its peak in ridership in 2010 with 22,350,252 passengers, transit officials said. This fiscal year is the first time since 2011 that ridership losses were less than one percent.

King attributes the trend to an improving economy that saw the decline in bus ridership also slowing nationwide and to improved service that saw buses arrive on schedule along seven routes, compared to only one route last year.

The BBB also reallocated services from low-performing areas and made improvements in the overall quality of services, King said.

The agency, for example, installed better seating, lighting and offered more printed and real time information at select stops throughout the system, King said. It also issued its pocket-sized guide, the Little Blue Book, which provides information on all BBB routes,

Still, an analysis of all bus routes found a number performing below “acceptable levels” or experiencing other problems such as underuse and overcrowding, King said.

“Due to poor performance and the desire to reallocate resources to high performing routes,” some routes will be eliminated under the “Evolution of Blue” plan, King said. “High performing segments from those routes will be included in new routes,” he added.

In addition, Route 10 – the Santa Monica to Los Angeles Express – performed at less than 50 percent of average by one measure, mostly because it included long trips on the freeway without any seat turnover.

Some crowding was reported on popular lines including Route 1 on Santa Monica Boulevard, which connects Venice to UCLA via downtown Santa Monica, and Route 14, which served Bundy and Centinela between Mar Vista and Sunset Boulevard and has been extended to Playa Vista.

Meanwhile, Rapid 12 was the only route to exceed 150 percent of ridership average, indicating possible overcrowding. As a result, King said, more trips will be added to the route next year.

Route 20 connecting the downtowns of Santa Monica and Culver City was eliminated in August because of poor performance and duplication with Expo Phase II, he added.

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