The Big Blue Bus took a hit last year, losing 12 percent of its overall ridership, according to a year-end performance report on fiscal year 2016-2017. While ridership has declined across agencies in Los Angeles County, local analysts say the biggest competition in Santa Monica came from the Expo Line. BBB routes that run parallel to light rail lost 1.5 million passengers year over year, accounting for 46 percent of ridership loss system wide.
“While BBB had been losing ridership in the prior year due to other forces, the rate of ridership loss increased immediately after the rail line opened,” the report says. Bus ridership was down 4.6 percent the previous year, according to data from fare boxes.
The report also blames changes in demographics, income, car affordability, low gas prices and Uber and Lyft, for declining ridership.
The report anticipates the new California gas tax that went into effect in November will encourage more riders, as well as the new $1.10 fare on TAP, a Lincoln Boulevard bus-only lane and better lighting at bus stops. The BBB is also looking to get signal prioritization in both Santa Monica and Los Angeles this year.
“Finally, the Expo Line is carrying over 64,000 daily riders, depositing tens of thousands of potential bus customers in our service area, many of whom are slowly finding their way to our new Expo feeder lines.
Ridership numbers were good for bus lines that provided subsidies for students and gave them access to areas with expensive or restrictive parking, like UCLA. In fact, UCLA students rode 14 percent more trips in Fiscal Year 2016-2017 than they did the year before.
“BBB has the opportunity to expand these types of relationships through the new to Blue Business program, and is making overtures to area employers,” the report says.
Route 44, which takes SMC students from the Expo Line to the college, is also a success, with the number of passengers per mile hitting 150 percent of the system average.
Because of declining ridership, BBB officials are analyzing routes to eliminate inefficiencies.
Routes looking at possible changes:
Route 5: BBB has reached out to Century City businesses to try and save this route, which has lost ridership because commuters have switched to the Expo Line to get as far as Palms before hopping on a bus service or boarding LA Metro 704 Santa Monica Boulevard Rapid Service.
“Without a bold ridership presence at Century City, this route may not be sustainable,” the report says.
Rapid 10: Many Santa Monicans continue to use this route to get to jobs in Downtown Los Angeles, some walking from their homes to the bus in the morning and then back at night. However, the Expo line has dramatically cut the number of Angelinos using the line to go the other direction. The route’s ridership is down more than 50 percent.
Recommendation: keep but adjust east to west route.
Route 15: This route has among the lowest value for the system, costing much more to run than it gets in fares. It runs north and south, connecting Sunset Boulevard and S Barrington Avenue to Bergamot.
Recommendation: eliminate weekend service.
Route 16: This new route connects Venice High School, SMC Main Campus, SMC Center for Media and Design, Bergamot arts center and the Water Garden. Ridership is low but growing.
Recommendation: Keep, monitor and encourage SMC to eliminate a shuttle service that competes with the line.
Routes 41/42: The BBB estimates 80 percent of SMC students use this service to get to campus from the 17th Street Expo stop if it arrives within five minutes of them getting off the train. The report estimates combining the two routes to use the same stops, thus upping the frequency, will boost ridership more than 20 percent.
Recommendation: keep and combine but possibly eliminate weekend service.