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BBB Ridership Far Below 2019 Despite 2-Year Rise


Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

January 4, 2024 -- Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus (BBB) gained ridership for the second straight year, but it remains far below the levels before the coronavirus shutdown, a new report shows.

In Fiscal year 2022-23, which ended on June 30, BBB carried 7,741,258 passengers, up from 6,312,168 passengers the previous year, a 23 percent increase, according to a Performance Metrics Report released Wednesday.

BBB Total Passengers FY2019-23

The increase, however, falls more than 2.5 million riders short of the 10,285,930 passengers who took a bus in Fiscal Year 2019-20, when a health emergency shut the system down for three and a half months.

The system has yet to recover from the blow dealt by the shutdown, which contributed to a shortage of 45 bus drivers as of December 2021, according to a BBB report issued that year.

"Bus service remained at about 78 percent of pre-pandemic levels due to continued challenges in recruiting and retaining Motor Coach Operators (MCOs)," said the report issued by the City's Transportation Department this week.

During the past fiscal year, the number of BBB drivers dropped from 281 drivers in FY 2021-22 to 272, according to the report.

As a result, the agency suspended Routes 42, 44 and Express 7 and reduced service for Rapid 3, the report noted.

"Only Route 14 saw a major increase in service levels resulting from its full extension to Inglewood when the Metro K Line opened in October 2022," the ridership report said.

In an effort to restore suspended routes, BBB boosted driver recruitment efforts, including increasing training pay and aggressively advertising for applicants.

It also enticed drivers to stay by improving their break areas, offering healthy food options at reduced rates and initiating a new wellness pilot program.

"Despite these efforts, the level of MCOs did not grow in significant numbers to restore more service," the report said.

The recruitment efforts, however, appear to be starting to pay off. According to the report, during the current fiscal year BBB has added eight drivers, bringing the total to 280.

In addition to enticing drivers to join or stay, BBB launched various projects and initiatives "aimed at enhancing service and the overall experience of its customers."

These included reinstating cash payments -- which accounted for 17 percent of the fares -- and offering free transfers within the system, as well as a new 10-ride pass.

Despite the 23 percent increase in ridership, fare revenues increased only 3 percent -- from $5,617,869 in Fiscal Year 2021-22 to $5,779,724, according to the data provided in the report.

Meanwhile, operating costs rose by 11 percent -- from $69,811,667 to $77,142,652, according to the data.

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