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Big Blue Bus Celebrates 80 Years:

It was the year Mickey Mouse made his screen debut, the year after Charles Lindberg crossed the Atlantic, and the year the Big Blue Bus started service with six rented buses. On Monday, April 14, hundreds gathered on the Third Street Promenade to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the 1928 birth of the Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines.

Big Blue Bus General Manager Stephanie Negriff emceed the events, which included a review of the company’s history, remarks by Councilmembers Bob Holbrook and Kevin McKeown, the introduction of eight BBB employees with more than 30 years of service each, and a look to the future.

Then, of course, there was cake – plenty of cake to eat, and a remarkable, fully three-dimensional cake in the shape of a bus (blue, naturally) created by students of Art Institute of California-Los Angeles (which is actually in Santa Monica).

A Look at the Past

Negriff reviewed some of the company’s history, and a short video, “80 Years in 8 Minutes,” was shown continuously on a vintage “New Look” bus (a design introduced in 1959) parked nearby on the Promenade. A few highlights:

1928 The rented buses were replaced with new ones, which were painted blue and white, and the tag line “Ride the Big Blue Bus” was created. The bus yard was a gas station at Pico and Lincoln Boulevards.

1940s During World War II, buses operated around the clock to accommodate the 24/7 shifts of the defense plants. Some of the buses became so overloaded they could not reach the top of Ocean Park Boulevard unless some passengers got off and walked.

1951 Big Blue Bus bought its privately owned competitor, Bay Cities Transit, and the Blue Bus then operated 107 buses on 13 routes.

1987 The company won the Outstanding Achievement Award of the American Public Transportation Association, the first of four APTA awards over the coming years. (Negriff once told this reporter that she thought she was named to the APTA selection committee to make the Big Blue Bus ineligible.)

1994 Big Blue Bus staff taught Sandra Bullock to drive a bus for her role in the film Speed.

2008 The company operates over 200 buses on routes that go within one-quarter of a mile of every residence in the city, carrying more than 20 million passengers a year.

The Ceremony

Councilmember Holbrook called the Big Blue Bus “one of the cleanest and most efficient fleets in the nation,” noting that 100 percent of the vehicles run on alternate fuels (not diesel or gasoline) and the company recycles 85 percent of the water used to wash the buses. McKeown took a different tack and spoke of the role the bus system has played and can play in…romance.

Among those on hand was Jack Hutchison, who served as general manager from 1967 to 1995. He came to Santa Monica from a privately owned transit system in Omaha, and he told the Mirror that “Santa Monica was way ahead of its time” in terms of being a publicly owned system. He also noted that it was the efficiency of the operations that allowed the company to reserve funds for capital projects such as the acquisition of Bergamot Station and the Sears Automotive property at Colorado Avenue and 4th Street.

A Look to the Future

General Manager Negriff announced a new collaboration between the Big Blue Bus and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, one of the preeminent design centers in the country, to help design the next generation of advanced buses. She introduced Geoff Wardle, Director of Advanced Mobility Research at the Art Center, who said that over the next three months or so his staff would conduct “research on the success of the Big Blue Bus and how to accelerate it into the future.”

Speaking with the Mirror afterward, Wardle explained that he plans to come up with design proposals for buses of the future. He also intends to elicit public input and will shortly have a blog available for that purpose.

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