With Santa Monica schools open again, ridership on the Big Blue Bus is up-especially on the 7 Pico Boulevard line, which serves Santa Monica College. Both the local and Rapid (limited stop) 7 buses have been jammed, and some SMC students have complained about waiting for a bus only to have one or more overcrowded buses pass them without stopping.
Stephanie Negriff, BBB’s Director of Transit Services, credits students with making a commitment to “alleviating traffic by taking transit,” and taking advantage of the “Any Line, Any Time” program, which gives SMC students and staff free rides when they show a valid college ID with current semester sticker when boarding. But she notes that the bus company has had to prepare for the increase in student ridership by adding extra service.
To this end, BBB began dispatching extra buses on the first day of SMC classes (August 31). Nine extra bus trips have been allocated to the local and Rapid 7 routes, and service on the Mini Blue Sunset Ride has been increased with rides beginning at 7 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.
BBB Public information officer Linda Gamberg says that the increased passenger load at SMC is the result of increased enrollment at the college this semester. “Enrollment usually drops off after the first month,” she explains.
Looking ahead however, Gamberg adds that the Blue Bus is going to add a fleet of articulated long (60 foot) buses, like those used on the Los Angeles MTA, which will accommodate larger passenger loads. The contract has recently been awarded to a manufacturer, NABI, and the anticipated receipt of the buses is set for February 2011. One problem with long buses is that, since they have several doors, passengers can take advantage of crowding to enter by the middle or rear doors, thus evading fare payment.
“That has been a concern,” says Gamberg. “We have created a fare box committee to look into the problem.” She adds that there are technologies in development that are able to detect each passenger who boards a bus, and possible fare payment options including the use of bank debit cards.
Gamberg notes that the purchase of the articulated buses has been made possible, not just by available federal funding, but by the building of the new BBB maintenance facility, which opened September 23. “Our old facility didn’t have room for the servicing of the long buses.”
So relief is on the way, but Gamberg emphasizes that if students (or any riders) have problems with bus service, “Feel free to call us-let us know where you were trying to board a bus and at what time.
“But we need to remind everyone that we have a limited number of vehicles on any given day. We’re dispatching as many buses are available to the Pico corridor. In the first few weeks of school, we can’t guarantee that people aren’t going to experience some challenges. We suggest that people leave one trip early.”