Overall transit ridership is down in Santa Monica, despite the massive success of the Expo Line. While the light rail through Santa Monica averages 45,000 daily riders during the week and 34,000 on the weekend, it has not been enough to compensate for sagging bus ridership.

Big Blue Bus ridership is down roughly 12 percent with about 14.98 million passengers every year, according to Santa Monica’s annual mobility report. Experts say they don’t know the cause behind the steep drop in ridership but note it is a nationwide trend.

Some riders complain BBB exacerbated the problem last year when they completely overhauled transit routes to provide more access to the Expo Line. Since the majority of trips taken by locals are to get from place to place within the City, the overhaul left some riders feeling frustrated – and in some cases getting around on foot.

“It’s taking me longer to get back and forth,” rider Frieda Dubin said during the public comment portion of a recent Planning Commission meeting as she expressed frustration with added inefficiencies in the line.  “Everybody is frustrated. People taking the Blue Bus to the 720 – they have to get off and walk an extra two and a half blocks to catch a Metro bus.”

“If you want to know why ridership is down, it’s because it’s not convenient. If it were, more people would take the bus.”

Commissioner Nina Fresco agreed with Dubin’s sentiments – adding that a quarter of BBB riders who responded to a recent transportation survey complained about the new routes. Fresco also bemoaned the infrequency of buses, adding that waiting twenty to thirty minutes to catch a ride somewhere is too long.

“When you live here and you live in a neighborhood and you want to go to another neighborhood, you’re kind of S-O-L,” Fresco said, using an acronym to keep her language appropriate for a public meeting. “It’s really slow.”

But to Francie Stefan, Santa Monica’s mobility division manager, bus ridership may be even worse if they had not worked to get more access to Expo Line riders coming into the City.

“We can talk all night about theories as to why ridership is down – whether it’s conversion to rail, whether it’s cheap gas, whether it’s customer satisfaction…it’s something we’re taking a look at and keeping an eye on,” Stefan said.

Only about 1.6 percent of trips within Santa Monica are taken on Big Blue Bus, according to the City’s latest transportation survey. Cars are still the number one way to get around town, with about 60 percent of trips happening inside a private vehicle. Walking is the second most frequent travel mode with about 30 percent of trips happening on two feet. Bike trips came in third place at 6.5 percent of trips.

Despite those percentages, the City considers the Breeze Bike Share system a huge success in changing the car culture in Santa Monica. There are more than 50,000 active subscriptions on the bike share app. While it’s popular with tourists and out-of-towners, about half of the trips on breeze are by locals.

This summer, Breeze will integrate with other bike share services throughout Los Angeles County, allowing for a seamless experience biking from city to city.  Overall, bike counts in Santa Monica rose 50 percent from 2007 to 2015.  This City has a goal of reaching up to 35% of trips by bicycle by 2030.

kate@smdp.com

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