COLORADO AVE — City Hall has invested big in its Big Blue Bus system, pushing new technological changes and further integration with the regional transportation network meant to make life easier on users.

The Big Blue Bus system has invested $7.153 million out of a total of $15.89 million in technology upgrades planned for local buses in 2012, according to a report released by City Hall.

That doesn’t count the money for new bus shelters, a project which is currently out to bid and will not begin construction until October 2013, said Suja Lowenthal, manager of Transit Government and Community Relations with the Big Blue Bus.

The money already spent has paid for the ability to track route productivity, new electronic signs for bus shelters not yet in existence and a system that tracks bus operators’ performance, payroll and other details.

The first, a program called the Transit Master provided by Iowa-based  Trapeze, came at a cost of $5.46 million and went live in October. The second came online in February.

Some of the technology involved sounds futuristic, like the biometric sign-in terminals that allow bus drivers to be tracked, while others, like the ability to flash information from the dispatch office to monitors in the Drivers’ Ready Room are more commonplace.

City Hall has also put aside $7.1 million for upgrades to fare systems that will allow 219 fareboxes to accept Transit Access Passes, commonly called TAP cards, used by the Los Angeles Metro buses that also run in Santa Monica.

The same money will also pay for six mobile ticket vending machines and the ability to pay for your bus ticket using a mobile phone.

The move is part of a three-year push by the Metro system to integrate with other municipal bus companies to provide seamless service throughout the Los Angeles region, said Rick Jager, a spokesperson for Metro.

“It’ll be very user friendly for bus patrons in terms of whether or not he or she has to transfer from one line to another instead of fumbling for correct change or the right monthly pass,” Jager said.

The TAP cards also work on the rail systems, including the new Exposition Light Rail line that is slated to reach Santa Monica in 2015, and eight other local bus systems have gotten on board as well, including nearby Culver City.

Mobile ticketing is expected to go live by December 2013, and TAP integration will become available a month later, Lowenthal said.

The Metro system cooperates with mobile applications that allow people with smartphones to pinpoint their bus’ location with a few swipes of the finger. Santa Monica also has plans for a mobile app, although it’s hit a snag, with a soft launch expected in the middle of 2013, according to the staff report.

A portion of the Transit Master contract will allow residents to call a service in either English or Spanish to get real-time information about their bus.

It’s not certain when this option will be available, Lowenthal said.

The “hits” for the Big Blue Bus has not come without at least one miss, specifically an advertising program that would have put digital billboards on the sides of the buses.

The program was originally proposed in 2010 and won legislative approval with the backing of then-Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, and hit deep opposition from other local governments including Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich.

It ultimately bit the dust in May 2012 when officials realized that the system couldn’t make money off the project and the only two cities that had embraced it — New York and Chicago — had both discontinued the program.

 

 

ashley@smdp.com

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