Known since 1999 as The Big Blue Bus, the Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines has come a long way from its early beginnings as a collection of unemployed Model T car owners who charged five cents for a ride down Santa Monica Boulevard.

It has evolved to become one of the most efficient and well-run transportation systems in the nation, admired for its deep commitment to the environment and its continuing mission to provide convenient and low-cost transportation to get people out of their cars and onto public transit, say Big Blue Bus officials.

The City of Santa Monica will hold a free public celebration event to honor the Big Blue Bus’s 80 years of service to the community at 11 a.m. Monday, April 14th, on the Third Street Promenade at Broadway in downtown Santa Monica.

“The Big Blue Bus has been able to grow over the years because of the incredible vision and dedication of many former city and transit leaders,” said Big Blue Bus general manager Stephanie Negriff.

“They knew a long time ago that investing in a modern public transit system would be very important to the growth of Santa Monica, and they never gave up trying to improve what we could offer to the public.

“When we first started back in 1928, we were only able to take people down the main streets of Santa Monica, like Pico and Wilshire Boulevards. Now we cover almost 52 square miles of Los Angeles County with over 200 ultramodern alternative fueled buses, which helps more than 20 million people a year get to work, school and around town.”

Negriff said the Big Blue Bus was especially proud that it has been able to consistently maintain low-cost fares over the years so that anyone who wanted to ride could.

“Our regular fares are only 70 cents higher than they were 80 years ago, and that’s remarkable in this day of $4 a gallon for gas,” said Negriff. “For students and seniors, that fare drops to 50 cents, which was what it was during the early 1980s.

“Keeping public transportation affordable and accessible to everyone was a major goal of this transit agency from the very beginning, and I’m very happy to say that it’s still one of our most important objectives.”

One of the most anticipated highlights of the celebration on April 14th will be the announcement of a new collaboration between the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, one of the preeminent automotive design centers in the country, and the Big Blue Bus, to help design the “next generation” of advanced buses, Negriff said.

“If you want people to get on board the concept of taking transit instead of driving, you have to provide them with more cutting edge, attractive and comfortable rides,” she said. “We are thrilled to be working with the talented staff at the Art Center College of Design on this collaboration to actually make the changes necessary to put transit squarely at the core of the way people will want to travel in the future.”

During the event, Negriff says she will also talk about a wide range of upcoming plans for the transit agency, including new Rapid service, real-time information for passengers at bus stops, more bus-only lanes and mobile trip planning assistance.

Another highlight of the event will be the display of a vintage “New Look” bus, so named because at the time it was introduced by General Motors, it represented the very latest concept design in buses.

The New Look bus defined transit in the ’60s and early ’70s, and nearly every transit system in the country had them.

Over the years, the Big Blue Bus purchased 246 New Look buses, and ultimately this same model became a central character in the movie Speed. Actress Sandra Bullock was trained on a similar model by Big Blue Bus staff for her role in the film.

A new original video produced especially for the Big Blue Bus called 80 Years in 8 Minutes will be shown inside a vintage New Look bus parked directly on the Third Street Promenade.

The video will offer “a lighthearted and informative look at the transit agency through the years,” and will feature interviews with current and former Big Blue Bus employees who witnessed many pivotal events in its history, Negriff said.

In addition to the New Look bus, a variety of antique photos from the 1920s through the 1950s will be on display, along with other artifacts from the transit agency’s past, such as some of the first tokens ever used.

Making a special appearance at the event will also be several employees celebrating more than 30 years of service with the Big Blue Bus, including 40-year veteran motor coach operator Ken Johnson, who started driving in 1968, and who holds “badge number 1” at the transit agency.

“I think so many of our employees remain here a long time because of the camaraderie we have here,” said Negriff. “We have quite a few employees that have passed the 20- and 30-year marks, and one of our employees’ fathers even worked here in the 1930s.”

Culinary students from the Art Institute of California-Los Angeles will be creating a gigantic bus-shaped cake for the event, which will be carved up and served to the public, along with other refreshments. Additional activities will include live music by the Blue Notes musical group and the giveaway of transit-themed souvenirs and specially prepared keepsakes.

A new “eco-art” exhibit by Art Institute of California-Los Angeles graphic and interior design students will also be available for viewing at the nearby Big Blue Bus transit store at 223 Broadway.

Information, www.bigbluebus .com/.