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Council Approves Modified BBB Contract with SMC

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By Lookout Staff

March 23, 2023 -- With fewer in-person classes on campus, Santa Monica College (SMC) will pay less than half of its pre-pandemic cost for students, faculty and staff to ride the Big Blue Bus for free.

Under a contract modification approved by the City Council on Tuesday, the college will pay $500,000 in compensation for the "Any Line, Any Time" program during the current fiscal year, instead of $1,258,000.

The reduction is "due to the impacts of the pandemic on ridership" after the school reduced the number of in-person classes during the COVID shutdown, according to City staff.

SMC will pay $629,000 in the upcoming fiscal year that starts July 1 under the modified agreement, which "acknowledges the gradual return in SMC ridership."

The agreement was most recently renewed in 2020 for a two-year term ending June 30, 2022 and was "based upon on-campus student enrollment and BBB ridership," staff said.

The pandemic resulted in "the permanent elimination of many onsite classes resulting in a reduced number of students, staff, and faculty physically attending SMC campuses," staff said.

"With BBB staff evaluating ridership trends for the first six months of the fiscal year, the parties have agreed to a new financial structure that will benefit both organizations."

The City's transit agency will offset the short fall in revenue by using one-time federal relief funds allocated to transit agencies "to address the adverse impact of the pandemic," staff said.

The "Any Line, Any Time" program was launched in 2008 to reduce the auto commutes by most of SMC's 34,300 students and 1,700 staff.

"Insufficient parking capacity at the campus led to the need for perimeter parking at the City’s beach lots and caused significant community safety and traffic concern," staff wrote in their report to the Council Tuesday.

When it was approved, College officials hailed the program as an historic move designed to improve access to the college and to reduce traffic, noise and air pollution.

Under the agreement, the college pays a fixed annual amount that allows "all student, staff, and faculty members with a valid, activated SMC identification card bearing a current semester sticker" to ride the Blue Bus for free.

By the 2010-11 fiscal year, SMC students accounted for 2.16 million boardings on the BBB, an 8 percent increase over the previous year.

But general ridership was already beginning to decline, a trend hastened by foreign-born residents buying cars and the Expo light rail line opening in Santa Monica in 2016 ("Big Blue Bus Continues to Lose Riders," November 21, 2019).

The ridership loss -- from 13.187 million passengers to 12.536 million in Fiscal year 2018-19 -- continued a nearly decade-long trend, transit officials said.

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