In the midst of its 80th anniversary, the Big Blue Bus held a series of community meetings to explain planned improvements in bus service and to get feedback from riders.
Customer Relations Manager Dan Dawson told riders that the Blue Bus does an intensive research study of the bus system every three years. The latest study showed that there has been a 2.3 percent ridership increase with an average daily ridership of 51 passengers an hour (the national average is 26 passengers an hour). The on-time rate for Santa Monica buses is at 86 percent.
The increased ridership can be credited to service improvements, but more changes are needed. The Blue Bus’s five-year service plan calls for a new maintenance facility, which is under construction now.
“There are things we have to do internally at the Big Blue Bus before we can go out on the street,” said Dawson. “We don’t have enough open space on our lot to allow for more buses. It was built in the ’60s. The technology has changed.”
The new facility will have 66,000 square feet of maintenance space with 20 repair bays and 5,000 square feet of office space. It will be able to accommodate a new fleet of articulated style buses (like those now in use on the MTA), which should start running in the spring of 2010, when the facility is completed.
Also on the way are “real-time” signs, which will inform riders of when buses are approaching, a new series of bus shelters, and improved signage and information at bus stops. The improved bus shelters will be installed at the 30 most used bus stops.
As for bus routes, Pico Boulevard will be seeing a new Rapid 7 line this summer. The Rapid 7 will have limited stops and will use signal priority technology (that detects the presence of a transit vehicle so the signal will change). Its route will possibly extend further than the Pico-Rimpau terminal in Los Angeles, going all the way to the Wilshire corridor area so riders can connect with the Metro Purple Line. “We believe it’s a very important connection point,” said Dawson. But he admitted that the MTA is “not really anxious” for the Blue Bus to enter their service area and that for the connection to happen, riders should petition members of the City Council and Pam O’Connor, who in addition to being a Santa Monica City Councilmember, serves on the MTA Board.
In addition to the improved service on the Pico corridor, the Lincoln Boulevard corridor will have expanded service on its Rapid 3 line to 8:30 p.m. on weekdays. Line 14 will see increased weekend service with Saturday frequency improved to 20 minute headway. And there will be expansion of the Mini Blue bus service to include trips to special events, and to the new Annenberg beach club facility (415 PCH).
At the meeting attended by this reporter, the Q&A session that followed Dawson’s presentation was dominated by complaints about slow bus service. Many people said they had waited for buses for almost an hour in the evening.
Dawson explained that much of the problem stems from the Wilshire-Westwood Boulevard intersection in Westwood, where buses get stalled by traffic.
As for other complaints – and some people felt their complaints were not being heard – Dawson and Assistant Director of Traffic Joe Stitcher assured riders that their phone calls are put into a computer system and that every comment is looked at and studied.
Riders who want to comment on the planned improvements can contact Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310.458.1975 x5831.