Big Blue Bus will run at 70% service levels this summer. (File photo)

The Big Blue Bus continued to lose riders last fiscal year but has started to win some of them back in recent months, according to a report released Wednesday.

Ridership fell 5% throughout the BBB system — from about 13.2 million to 12.5 million — continuing a decade-long trend of declining ridership. But Ed King, the city of Santa Monica’s director of transit services, said new strategies to attract and retain riders boosted ridership by more than 5% from July to October, compared to the same period last year.

This is a really positive sign that the strategy and the plan that we have been working on over the past two years and the service changes we did last March really starting to pay dividends,” King said. “ Everyone else in the region is still losing bus riders, including (L.A. Metro), and it’s something we’re really proud of.”

This past spring, BBB cut service on 12 low-performing routes and increased frequency on nine high-ridership routes during peak hours. Lighting and signs announcing bus arrivals in real time were installed at almost 200 bus stops and free Wi-Fi was added on select routes.

King said BBB continued to encourage riders to use TAP cards and mobile apps instead of cash to reduce boarding times. It also expanded its partnerships with businesses, colleges and universities, he said.

While ridership may be stabilizing, the system has still lost 6.2 million passengers over the past five fiscal years. Other transit agencies in the Los Angeles area have experienced similar losses — last fiscal year alone, L.A. Metro, the West Coast’s largest bus system, lost 10% of its riders. 

Some former BBB riders have migrated to the Expo Line and an unknown number may be using Uber and Lyft instead, but King said most have opted to buy their own cars. 

“A recent UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies report found that increased car ownership likely explains much of the transit ridership decline in Southern California,” King said.

Many of those new drivers are low-income or foreign-born residents — demographics that make up the majority of bus riders across the region, according to the report. 2016 state legislation allowed about 650,000 undocumented residents of Los Angeles County to obtain drivers licenses, and a long economic expansion has put more low-income residents in a position to afford a car.

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