A public meeting was held last Thursday to inform Santa Monica residents about the changes to Big Blue Bus fares, during which many attendees expressed their differing opinions over the proposal.
As previously reported by the Daily Press, BBB will be adding 11 percent more service over the next 12 months as part of the Evolution of Blue campaign in order to provide connections to the upcoming Expo Light Rail Line.
In order to offset their costs and bring some of BBB’s products inline with regional averages, the base bus fare will increase by $0.25 to $1.25 per ride. Express fares will increase to $2.50 (50 cent increase), seniors/disabled fares and day passes will not see a change, tokens will increase to $1.25 (25 cent increase), the 13-ride ticket will increase to $14 ($2 increase), a 30-day pass will rise to $50 ($10 decrease), a youth 30-day pass will drop to $38 ($2 decrease) and an express 30-day pass will increase to $89 ($9 increase). A new rolling 7-day pass will be made available for $14.
Big Blue Bus director of transit services, Ed King led the meeting, opening with the statement that BBB does not like to raise fares and has not done so since 2010.
“It’s a very painful process,” King said. “The staff struggled with this for many, many months, and we know it’s not favorable or a really interesting thing to do, we know our customers don’t like it … Secondly, we have implemented a great deal of new service over the last couple of years. And in order to sustain that, and sustain our service improvements in integrating with the Expo Light Rail, we’re going to have an 11 percent increase in the number of operating hours and miles that we operate every year. We have 545,000 to 550,000 service hours this year and it’s going up next year.”
King went on to say that BBB did have a little bit of reserve, which has helped them to keep the fare increase down. BBB has also invested in their infrastructure.
“We have added 67 new buses in our fleet in the last two years, which is remarkable because we only have 200 buses. So we’ve been able to keep our maintenance costs down. [We are] asking you, the customer, to share the burden and help cover the cost of 56,000 new operating [hours] this next year.”
King explained that when a rider pays cash to ride the bus it is a 23 or 24 second transaction versus around a 4 second transaction with a TAP card, “which really slows down service.”
“[We are] trying to move people to an alternate medium of paying besides cash. This improves service, improves connections between buses and between our buses and other systems and gets people to their destination a lot faster.”
King made it very clear BBB wants rides to “switch from cash to other mediums,” which correlates with the increase in cash fare and tokens. King said this was the reason behind the creation of the new 7-day pass, available for $14, which “for $2 a day allows the customer to ride the bus as many as they want, from until we open till close.”
Several residents were interested in the new pass and approved of its creation, though many said they still favor the 13-ride pass, which some even buy in bulk. Residents seemed divided on whether the $2 increase on the pass, from $12 to $14, was justifiable.
One issue attendees raised was the price of the youth 30-day pass, which was lowered from $40 to $38.
A Santa Monica High School mother was not pleased with this change, stating the decrease will not help because the school does not sell the youth pass and offers only the 13-ride pass. The mother called the youth pass a “dismal failure” and questioned why the youth fare was not lowered during the 2010 fare adjustments. Another resident took it so far as to say there should be no student fare, stating that students should be able to get to school for free.
To those comments King responded, “Students need to pay their fare share.”
“We have reached out to the school district to collaborate financially … but they won’t do that.”
King explained how BBB came to their final numbers for the proposed increases.
“We looked at industry best practices, and peer transit systems in Long Beach, Culver City, and Torrance and made timed connections. We looked at fare mediums they offer, and this is what we came up with … Our current fare is well below the average, which is why we’re recommending the 1.25 [per ride] fare.”
King said the new revenue will increase the BBB fare box revenue, as BBB is currently only recovering 20 – 23 percent expenditures from fare boxes.
“The industry average is in the high 20 – 30 percent, so there will be a new increase to that.”
The conversation began to shift when some in attendance complained about the wait times at bus stops, King spoke to the improved number of operating hours on Pico Boulevard, Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard.
“We have invested a lot of new service hours [with a] correlation with expenditures. There was 3.2 percent increase in this fiscal year, next fiscal year [it will be] over 5 percent.”
A long discussion then began over the design and layout of the new bus stops, which King said were approved by City Council and that BBB does not favor at the moment either.
The conversation also turned to whether the fare increases would be used to pay for BBB employees’ salaries. King said they would not be and also said the salary increase for those in the BBB administration has been around a 2.5 percent increase over the last three years.
One resident brought up the idea that BBB may lose a category of customers based on their fare increase, to which King said BBB had considered that risk.
“We did anticipate that we could lose some customers due to the fare increase. [We] used a formula that predicts customers loss based on fare increase and balanced it against the increased service area.”
City Council approved the service changes in April of this year. Council adopted their biennial budget in June that included the BBB’s revenue projections and council is expected to hear the item for a third time as part of their consent calendar on October 27. New fares will be implemented on January 10 of 2016.
Residents can find more information about the fare proposal at http://bigbluebus.com.