There will be some changes to Santa Monica Big Blue Bus’s Mini Blue Rides in the new year, as outlined at a community meeting on January 3.
Dan Dawson, Customer Relations Manager for the Blue Bus, said that the Mini Blue rides have largely been a success since their introduction last August. These buses, smaller than those used on other lines, serve specific communities and are designed to help residents get around for short trips.
However, the Downtown Market Ride, which takes residents to and from the Downtown Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and the Pico Market Ride, which operates only on Saturdays, have a lower ridership than the other lines. Although the numbers reflect the limited days of service, the Downtown Ride’s daily rider count is less than 25 riders; the Pico Ride’s count is less than six riders.
Dawson noted that market-goers can, and apparently do, take other bus routes to get to the markets. The Downtown and Pico Mini Blue Rides will be discontinued and their buses and drivers diverted to other lines that are more heavily used.
“We’ve seen the Sunset Ride have phenomenal ridership,” said Dawson. A collaboration between the Big Blue Bus and SMC, the Sunset Ride serves SMC students by linking the various campuses, and has 1,400 boardings daily.
Shortly after its inception, the Sunset Ride began to draw criticism from Sunset Park residents over increases in foot traffic, trash problems at bus stops, buses blocking car traffic, and speeding buses. The Blue Bus responded to these concerns by adding trash cans at bus stops, extending red curb areas, and checking the bus speeds. After a community meeting in November, at which concerns were raised about bus noise and foot traffic on 20th Street, which is narrow, the Blue Bus decided that as of December 19, the Sunset Ride will no longer stop at 20th and Pearl Streets.
Likewise, the SMC Commuter bus, which connects the SMC main and Bundy campuses with Culver City and West LA, will also no longer stop at 20th and Pearl.
Dawson said that the bus company is considering splitting the Sunset Ride into two routes, one linking the SMC Academy of Entertainment and Technology with the main campus, and the other linking the main campus with the Bundy campus. The two routes would bypass 20th Street altogether.
Some bus riders were skeptical that the elimination of the 20th and Pearl stop would be enough to mitigate foot traffic near the main campus.
One man asked why the bus couldn’t simply stop at 20th and Ocean Park Boulevard. “The students can walk the rest of the way.”
Stephanie Negriff, Director of Transit Services, replied: “All the research we do has shown that the farther people have to walk from a bus, even if it’s one block, the less they’re likely to use it.”
When Negriff reminded the riders that the Mini Blue buses were designed to serve many segments of the community, one local resident retorted: “One hundred buses on a residential street is not a community service!”
Negriff said that the Blue Bus is looking to get smaller and quieter buses to serve the Mini Blue and would be asking the City Council to reject the bid by the supplier of the currently used vehicles. “Once we get the right vehicles for the community, you will see the benefits of having an alternative form of transportation.”
The request to reject the supplier’s bid and the cancellation of the two market rides were both approved at the January 8 City Council meeting.