Starting late this summer, riders on Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus will see some service changes intended to increase regional connectivity and make the transit system more efficient.
Late into its May 10 meeting, the Santa Monica City Council voted 4-0 to approve a series of service changes to Big Blue Bus Lines 1, 2, 7, Rapid 7, 10, 11 and 13, as well as the addition of a shuttle between the Civic Center parking area and downtown. The modifications, which faced some controversy particularly regarding Line 2, are slated to take effect Aug. 28.
The changes were proposed from a “line-by-line analysis” of the company’s transit service and are part of a larger three-year plan designed to improve services while modifying routes to provide better connections to Phase I of the Exposition Line light rail, which will end in Culver City. Big Blue Bus officials say the approved adjustments are expected to result in an increase of more than 7,600 annual service hours and cost approximately $419,000.
“These changes will allow us to provide the most service to the most people while maintaining a balanced budget this year,” said Stephanie Negriff, Big Blue Bus director of transit services, who has announced her retirement in October.
Negriff said that overall, customers and residents were enthusiastic about the recommendations to improve line service, but she noted that the agency had to make some tough decisions to ensure there were no impacts on the ability to balance its budget.
“We’re pleased that as a result of effective research and outreach, we’ll be a better bus service without any negative impacts to this year’s operating budget or fares,” she said.
Other proposals for Lines 3 and 14 were not included with this series of changes, Negriff said, and Big Blue Bus plans to continue working with the community on areas that are slated for changes next year and are still of some concern.
Most of the controversy with the service adjustments related to the rerouting and rescheduling of Lines 1 and 2, proposed to reduce duplication of service between the two lines. Line 2 connects Santa Monica to UCLA via Wilshire Boulevard and provides local service through Venice. Because of some duplication with Line 1 between downtown and Venice, the agency originally proposed to eliminate the Line 2 segment south of Pico Boulevard.
But after a number of people expressed concerns at public meetings about removing the segment, an alternate plan was suggested to keep part of the Line 2 route to Hill Street, which would cut some of the duplication. Other neighborhood residents had argued in favor of cutting the segment, saying that the buses riding by their homes cause a great deal of noise, but bus agency officials believed the revised route offers a compromise that will create a more efficient use of resources.
Some residents who called for preserving the Line 2 segment south of Pico expressed support for the amendment at the May 10 meeting.
“We think the plan approved for the Big Blue Bus No. 2 route was fair, reasonable and supportive of the bus riders’ needs,” resident Jerry Rubin said. “Hopefully the new route will also work somewhat better for the residents along Hill Street that were complaining about bus noise.”
Several residents in the Hill Street area continued to push the need to eliminate the Line 2 travel through their neighborhood, saying that their windows vibrate as buses go by and they have endured noise for long enough.
“I don’t believe this revised proposal is a legitimate compromise,” said resident Scott Smith, noting that his neighbors were overjoyed with the original plan that would have given them relief from the noise.
Resident Andrew Gledhill also spoke of the noise from buses that “thunder” past his residence and argued that most of the time, according to survey statistics, very few people are riding that section of the bus line.
Some public concerns were also expressed regarding a reduction in the frequency of stops on Line 7 along Pico Boulevard. Zina Josephs, president of the Friends of Sunset Park, told the council that the neighborhood group’s board opposed the plan to reduce service on Line 7, which has the highest ridership of any line in the city. The approved line changes include reducing the frequency of buses from every 10 minutes to 15 minutes midday, and from every 10 minutes to every 15 to 20 in the evening.
Referring to the various concerns regarding the Line 2 modifications, City Councilman Kevin McKeown said he too has had experiences with noisy garbage trucks driving near his home. Though he is willing to give the bus service changes a try to see how they work, he stressed that they are not necessarily permanent and encouraged residents to return if the problems continue.
“We don’t make decisions that last forever; this is an iterative process,” he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis cautioned that while the city can revisit the issue, the changes will be in effect for the foreseeable future, and she also spoke of the importance of supporting alternative transportation modes.
“We need to provide a regional service that gets people out of their cars,” she said.
Among the other approved bus service changes were enhancements to the Rapid 7 service, including an extension of the route to the Metro Purple Line subway station; changing the Express 10 line to a Rapid 10 service; and decreasing the frequency of Route 13 service, which runs outside the city limits and has low ridership, to once every hour during the week.