A woman waits for a Big Blue Bus at the intersection of Fourth Street and Broadway. BBB officials were forced to make cuts to some routes because of the budget crisis in Sacramento. Some of the most popular lines will get additional buses during rush hour. (photo by Byron Kennerly)

CITYWIDE — Looking to be more reliable during rush hour traffic and cut costs because of the budget fiasco in Sacramento, public transportation officials are adjusting their bus schedules, with changes to go into effect Feb. 15.

The City Council last week approved the changes that will add some additional buses to the most crowded lines while eliminating or reducing rides on those routes that are the least utilized.

Big Blue Bus officials estimate the changes, part of a shake-up that occurs three times a year, will result in a reduction of 4,299 service hours for the year with a savings of $430,000, money that will help offset increases in fuel prices and a significant dip in state funding for transit. It is estimated that BBB will lose as much as $3.5 million in state funding, and it could get worse if plans to take more transit funds are approved by Gov. Schwarzenegger to close the budget gap.

“This is the first time in a longtime where we’ve had to make significant cuts,” said Dan Dawson, customer relations manager for BBB. “We don’t want to cut [service], but we’re forced to make hard choices. … When we look at things and say we have to make cuts, we have to try and use a scalpel rather than a giant knife.”

Lines that will be affected are 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10 and the Sunset and Tide rides as well as Rapid 3 and 7. Only those lines and rides that carried very few passengers were trimmed or eliminated, Dawson said, with resources shifted to the most popular routes to help alleviate overcrowding.

BBB constantly monitors ridership to see if travel patterns shift. Lines that carry at least 60 passengers for at least two miles are identified as needing more resources to meet demand and ensure a level of comfort for riders. When fewer than 20 passengers are being carried per service hour, guidelines suggest the line be trimmed. Services that carry 15 or fewer passengers require significant reconfiguration or elimination, according to BBB staff.

Here are some of the changes:

• Line 1— Connecting Main Street and UCLA via Santa Monica Boulevard, drivers have a hard time with this line because of increased traffic congestion and overcrowding. Some buses are running late. To help, BBB officials are adding one bus and one driver every afternoon to restore the regular 10-minute frequency between buses on weekdays, 15-minute frequency on Saturday and 20-minute frequency on Sundays, adding 3,798 annual service hours. The trade-off is that during midday, weekday service frequency would decrease by a minute, from 10 to every 11 minutes.

• Line 3 and Rapid 3 — These lines, which travel along Lincoln Boulevard to LAX, experience some of the greatest overcrowding in the BBB system, with as many as 38 riders having to stand during some trips. One Line 3, which hits UCLA, Montana Avenue and the Green Line, one trip would be extended on weekdays in the evening peak period from the Green Line Station to Montana, increasing annual service hours by 150. One Rapid 3, one southbound trip at 1:35 p.m. and one northbound trip at 2:30 p.m. would be added to reduce the mid-day service gap, adding 508 additional service hours.

• Line 4 — Operating on San Vicente and Sawtelle boulevards, transporting passengers from Westwood to Main Street, Line 4 is the least productive line on weekends in the entire BBB system with only 17 per hour on Saturdays and 13 passengers per hour on Sundays. On Line 4, weekend service will operate hourly rather than every 30-35 minutes. The last hour of service on all days is also poorly utilized with no passengers recorded on some trips. The last trip every day will now end at 8 p.m. The net change will be an annual decrease of 3,379 service hours.

• Line 5 — BBB is eliminating the last eastbound and westbound trips in the evening on both weekdays and weekends due to ridership fewer than 10 passengers per hour. One bus will be added in the afternoon to allow for slower operating times due to traffic congestion. The result is a decrease of 147 service hours.

• Line 6 — Known as the SMC Commuter, Line 6 will be re-routed heading from Santa Monica toward Palms to avoid picking up passengers at 20th and Pearl streets after residents complained about students littering and making noise while waiting for the bus. The new route will pick up on Pico and buses will continue east to Bundy where they will turn right. It will require additional service hours because of traffic congestion on Pico.

• Rapid 7 — One trip will be added in the late morning when SMC is in session. The trip will be timed for a major class dismissal when over 60 passengers have been observed trying to board the bus.

• Line 9 — A trip to the Pacific Palisades may take a little longer in the evenings. With ridership low, one round trip will be eliminated every evening, resulting in hourly service after 7 p.m. daily.

• Line 10 — The Downtown Los Angeles Freeway Express will be trimmed on Sunday only, with the first morning trip to and from Union Station and one trip in the early evening to and from Union Station being eliminated. The morning trips that will be eliminated average seven passengers per hour while the evening trips average nine.

• Sunset Ride — This route connecting the Arboretum, Water Garden, Pico and Sunset Park neighborhoods and Airport Park with SMC campuses will operate at a 30-minute frequency after 4:03 p.m. because of low ridership at that time.

• Tide Ride — This line, which has the lowest productivity of all BBB lines on weekdays with only 12 passengers per hour, will be reconfigured to serve the new Annenberg Community Beach House when it opens this spring. It will operate on weekends only, all year long between 9:45 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. with later hours added for summer. BBB officials do not feel weekday service is warranted given the low number of anticipated visitors and the availability of parking nearby. It is estimated the two Mini Blue buses will operate on a 30-minute frequency.

Some in the business community, mostly hotels, have expressed concerns about the reconfiguration and how it will impact tourists, however, Dawson said BBB is offering special day passes to beachside hotels for their guests.

The good news, Dawson said, is the passage of Measure R, which raised the county sales tax by half of a cent to pay for transit. BBB expects to get as much as $3.5 million during the first year, helping offset the loss of state funding. That said, it all depends on consumer confidence. If people buy, that means more tax revenue.


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