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Santa Monica City Funding Knocks Down Price for Youth Bus Rides

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

October 30, 2015 -- In an effort to increase ridership among young people, the City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to decrease the price of 30-day Santa Monica Big Blue Bus (BBB) youth passes from $40 to $28.

Council members said this reduction will be done as a one-year pilot program and the long-term goal is for the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) to back a program allowing high school students to ride for free.

“Our goal is to get people, including youth, out of cars and onto the bus,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown, noting agreements for this type of program exist between the BBB and Santa Monica College as well as UCLA.

He said use of the 30-day bus passes was not limited to trips to and from school, so it would reduce vehicle trips.

“If high school students had that plan through Samohi, they wouldn’t be asking their parents to drive them to hockey practice or any of the other errands that parents often have to do because those young people would be totally mobile anytime day or night when the Big Blue Bus is running,” McKeown said.

BBB staff had wanted to reduce the cost of the 30-day youth price from $40 to $38 as part of a larger price-restructuring proposal. The loss of revenue due to the greater reduction will be covered with money from the City’s general fund.

During the pilot program, City staff will study whether the price reduction actually increases youth ridership. Councilmember Gleam Davis said she wasn’t sure it would do that.

“I think the reason people aren’t riding the bus is issues of convenience,” Davis said. “I think they’ve gotten used to” riding in vehicle to and from school.

She added, “Just like we have walk-it, bike-it days to the high school, why aren’t we having bus-it days to the high school and having that sort of thing that tells people they’ll get to school on time and it’s easy to get home.”

Asking the SMMUSD to fund a free busing program is not something new, City officials said.

“The question been asked and answered repeatedly by the school district that they’d love to do it, but they don’t have the dough,” City Manager Rick Cole told the council. “But if you want to send that back, we can knock on that door again.”

Councilmember Ted Winterer said working with the SMMUSD on this program was needed.

Winterer said the SMMUSD had been “sort of laggards” in getting involved with the City’s vehicle trip reduction program and “getting students out of cars and into buses and walking and biking.”

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich said her research showed the biggest influence on unexcused absences in schools throughout California was “the lack of public transportation to school and the inability of parents to get their kids to school.”

The council also increased the base fare for riders from $1 to $1.25, among other adjustments that were mostly price hikes.

Staff said these changes will offset new costs associated with expected ridership increase due to the coming light rail and be in line with other area bus services.

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