Bus fares on the Big Blue Bus were “adjusted” by the City Council Tuesday night, April 10, when it accepted a staff recommendation presented by Stephanie Negriff, Director of Transit Services for the Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines. The basic 75-cent fare will remain unchanged, but significant changes in discount fares and transfers will take effect July 1, 2007.
Fares on the Big Blue Bus, which have traditionally been among the lowest in the nation, were last increased July 1, 2002, but that increase only affected the basic fare, which remains unchanged as a result of the current Council action. Fares in discounted categories, which are the subject of the current adjustments (mostly, but not exclusively, increases) have not been changed since 1991.
The change that will probably impact the largest number of bus riders is the elimination of free “local transfers” (transfers from one Blue Bus to another). Under the new structure, the use of transfers is discouraged in favor of a new “day pass” that will enable a person to ride all day for $2.50 ($1.25 for senior/disabled and students). Negriff explained to the Council that restrictions on the use of transfers (may not be used for round trips, may only be used when boarding at “transfer points,” are only valid for stated periods of time, etc.) are often a subject of contention between passengers and drivers. The new day pass contains no such restrictions.
Unlike most bus systems that have initiated day passes, the Blue Bus will not eliminate local transfers altogether, but will now charge 50 cents for them. The inter-agency transfer (to other bus lines) that was 25 cents will now be 50 cents (still 10 cents for senior/disabled).
City Council members regretted the fare increase for seniors, disabled and students, but unanimously approved it in view of the economics presented by the staff.
Since 1991, when discounted fares were last increased, the average cost per passenger has increased from $.94 to $2.12, according to the Staff Report. The Blue Bus’s operating revenues “include passenger fares, advertising revenues, lease rental revenues, charter, Tide shuttle hotel revenue, Playa Vista, interfund services, miscellaneous transportation revenues, operating interest earnings and Proposition A Local Return.” Most non-farebox revenue sources “are anticipated to remain static over the short term.”
The Staff Report concluded, “If farebox revenues do not increase, it is unlikely that the BBB will be able to maintain a balanced budget beyond [fiscal year] 2007-08.” The fare adjustments approved by the City Council on April 10 are anticipated to “result in $1.3 million additional revenue to BBB to offset largely non-controllable cost increases such as fuel.”
The New Fares
In addition to the changes in the transfer policy, the new fare adjustments impact the discounted fares for seniors, the disabled and students. The basic senior/disabled fare of 25 cents remains the same.
The “K-12” student fare will increase from 25 cents to 50 cents, but the discounted fare will now be available without the “bulk buy” of a multiple-ride ticket. The college fare will increase from 40 cents to 50 cents, but the bulk buy requirement in this category will remain because the fare is only available to students under 21 and it would be inconvenient for bus drivers to have to deal with proof of age.
On the Line 10 Express freeway bus to downtown Los Angeles, the $1.75 basic fare will remain the same, but the new fare for both seniors and disabled will be 50 cents; it has been 60 cents for seniors and 25 cents for disabled. (Seniors are age 62 and over.) Day passes on the Line 10 Express will be $3.50 regular fare and $1.25 for senior/disabled.