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Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus Receives More than $24 Million in Federal Funding

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By Jorge Casuso

August 13, 2020 -- Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus will receive some $24.4 million in federal funding to support service and maintain safety during the coronavirus emergency, the Federal Transit Administration announced Thursday.

The funding -- which also includes $15.8 million to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) -- is part of the the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, officials said.

The grants "provide operating assistance to public transit operators who have continued to deliver critical service during the COVID-19 global pandemic and help fund operations for salaries/benefits, supplies, and expenses," said Ed King, the City's director of transit services.

"It also ensures that Big Blue Bus staff has appropriate personal protective equipment and can maintain the highest standards in vehicle sanitization," King said.

The "elevated cleaning procedures" include cleaning and sanitizing the entire BBB fleet nightly and "using hospital-grade solutions to wipe down high touch areas."

The funding also will help offset the loss of fare and sales tax revenues that LA County transit agencies, including BBB, rely on to operate, King said

A report released by the California Association of Governments (SCAG) on Monday found that Santa Monica, as well as the region, saw a precipitous drop in public transit ridership in the months following the coronavirus shutdown.

According to the report, BBB ridership took a nosedive of 73 percent in both April and May as businesses shut down and stay-at-home orders were issued by state and local governments ("Transit Ridership, Vehicle Traffic Dropped Across Region After Pandemic Hit," August 11, 2020).

Rail service in the Metro Los Angeles area -- which includes the Expo Line that connects Downtown LA and Santa Monica -- dropped by 68 percent in April, compared to the same month last year, according to the report.

Days after the first COVID-19 case was reported in Santa Monica on March 16, the City's transit agency implemented rear door boarding only and temporarily stopped collecting fares.

Buses have a designated social distancing area to protect drivers, and the agency plans to install new protective barriers in the fall, King said.

BBB, which saw a modest gain in ridership at the beginning of the year, was among the City's hardest hit departments when the City Council slashed it budget in May to help bridge a projected $150 million deficit triggered by the coronavirus shutdown.

The municipal bus system, which provides service outside Santa Monica's borders, lost 43 full-time employees ("City Council Slashes Up to 247 Full-time Jobs; Cuts Will Be Felt at All Levels," May 6, 2020).

The federal funding will also help support DASH, which offers bus service across LA, as well as the Commuter Express bus service between downtown Los Angeles and surrounding communities.

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