An out-of-service bus leaves the Big Blue Bus yard on Monday. (Daniel Archuleta



The Big Blue Bus (BBB) gave away transit fares worth $392,794 during its inaugural Buy One Get One (BOGO) promotion.

The BOGO program ran for 17 weeks starting in May and was designed to capitalize on excitement surrounding the opening of the Expo line in Santa Monica. The program had a total budget of $575,000 and used a total of $474,266.

The program allowed users to get up to $110 worth of BBB passes and $20 in stored value per week on a TAP card. A special 30-Day Youth pass was also available for $10. Including youth pass purchases ($29,150), expenses ($35,442.21) and the cost of providing free bus rides during Expo’s opening day ($16,879.54), the program ended with $100,733.91 in the bank and that money will be used to continue to subsidize the Youth Pass.

According to a report form City Staff there were 15,965 unique transactions by 8,927 unique customers. The two numbers differ as customers were able to make purchases on behalf of youth and other special circumstances.

“The average BOGO customer received $40 of free value.,” said the report. “More than 39.9% of customers were Santa Monica residents and more than 70.7% of total customers lived inside the BBB Service Area by zip code. In addition, 4.7% of BOGO customers were international visitors. The most popular product purchased during the promotion was Stored Value, accounting for 66% of total sales.”

Stored value is equivalent to cash for use anywhere that accepts a TAP card including Metro buses, Expo and the Big Blue Bus.

The BBB 30-Day Pass (12%) and BBB 13-Rides Pass (10%) were also popular.

As the promotion could only be applied to TAP cards, sales of the card increased dramatically during the program. According to the report, 5,582 TAP cards (1,177 per month) were sold as part of the program compared to an average of 181 cards sold per month during the five months prior to the program.

The report said high demand for the program created a few problems.

“Customers were frustrated with the complexities of the promotion, especially when combined with existing complexities of TAP and regional transit in general. Customer inquiries about the BOGO promotion and about using TAP added considerable time to each transaction, increasing the wait time for all customers present,” said the report.

Staff also said the program was implemented without a fixed end date and the lack of certainty frustrated customers and staff.

“Another aspect that challenged customers was not having a program end date from the launch of BOGO. Customers routinely inquired about when the promotion would end and BBB customer service representatives were only able to provide them with “when supplies run out” and an estimate of ‘will end sometime in September.’ Having a date-certain program end would be helpful to both customers and staff.”

A survey of BOGO users is underway to gather more information on the program and the report said it would take several months to fully realize the impact of the promotion on BBB ridership.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...