THIRD STREET PROMENADE — Patiently waiting for the Line 10 Freeway Express bus, Emilee Kerns quietly counts her cash. A manager at Pacific Sunwear and a host at Monsoon Cafe, Kerns works in Santa Monica six days a week.
Like many Third Street employees, Kerns rides the bus to avoid having to deal with the hassles of finding parking. She lives in Culver City, which means that with the new Big Blue Bus fare hikes she will spend a minimum of $24 each week getting to work.
“I actually had to take a second job to pay bills. So even though a lot of people just look at it like, ‘It’s just an extra quarter. It takes a while to add up,’ truth be told, it adds up pretty quickly,” said Kerns, as she pulled out $2, just enough to pay for her one-way fare.
Bus fare increases began on Aug. 29. General passengers and students using cash now pay $1 per ride. Fares for Express lines have also increased, from $1.75 to $2.
There were also some changes to the types of bus passes riders can purchase, with riders no longer able to purchase a pass and put as much money as they like on it. Riders must by a day pass, a monthly pass or a 13-ride pass for the price of 12 rides.
City officials have attributed rising prices to the $6.4 million deficit for this fiscal year.
“We were looking at some pretty big red … . We knew we had to do a fare increase, but we wanted to make it more workable,” said Chris Ramirez, marketing and public information coordinator for Big Blue Bus.
Big Blue Bus hopes the restructuring of the pass system will reduce loading time, so that buses can pull away faster and fewer buses will be needed to maintain the same route, Ramirez said.
“It’s really about efficiency and keeping the buses moving at a reasonable schedule,” Ramirez said.
Ralph Foster, who was waiting for the Line 7 bus to take him to Trader Joe’s on Friday of last week, said he doesn’t always have time or money to buy a pass beforehand.
“Well, for those who can afford it, it shouldn’t be a problem,” said Ralph Foster, a senior Santa Monica resident who rides the bus every day. “For those that can’t afford it, it’s a problem … . It can add up to an inconvenient expense.”
Seniors, disabled and Medicare passengers who pay cash also face a 25 cent increase, the first change in 25 years.
Matt Dinolfo, a physician in Santa Monica, left the Big Blue Bus Transit Store on Broadway Friday afternoon with a student pass for his daughter and a more positive outlook on the situation.
“I think it’s still a great deal for the kids in this town to be able to have that kind of freedom … to go on a very safe bus within the city and outside the city,” Dinolfo said. “I don’t think it’s an exorbitant amount of change. I think if they maintain that level of service, it’s worthwhile to do that.”
For Santa Monica College students and staff members, the fare restructuring has little impact. They continue to ride the bus for free with a valid ID.
“I take the Blue Bus because it’s convenient transportation, and it’s free because I’m a student,” said Maria Mendoza, a senior majoring in art business at SMC. “I really like the Blue Bus because it runs so often. You aren’t just sitting here [thinking], ‘oh come on!’”
But for others, the rise in fares means working longer hours to compensate.
“I probably will have to pick up an extra shift. The money that I’m now paying for the bus, I would’ve gotten myself an extra cup of coffee or some breakfast,” Kerns said.
Ramirez suggests those facing financial difficulties to look into the Rider Relief Transportation Program, which offers fare subsidy coupons for those who fall under a certain income level.