Putting conflict above cooperation to attack mass transit only hurts the common good

By Ed King

King is transit director for Big Blue Bus. He is responding to the Oct. 20 story “They Beat the Bus,” about Venice residents who campaigned to keep buses from using Ocean Avenue.

Big Blue Bus has consistently provided safe, reliable and economical transportation services to both residents and visitors of the Westside. We do this well because, in large part, we have become partners with our stakeholders to better understand the needs of the community, businesses, schools and neighborhoods that we serve.

This process includes outreach and dialogue with our partners. Our approach to service planning and delivery is simple and straightforward — as evidenced in the 18 community and stakeholder meetings that Big Blue Bus staff conducted over a 12-month period prior to making final service recommendations for integrating bus service with the newly expanded Expo Phase II rail network, presented to the city council in March 2015.

As part of this outreach effort, we engaged with the Ocean Avenue residents at the request of L.A. City Council District 11, who requested a special community meeting of the Ocean Avenue residents to discuss recently added service to their area.

During this meeting, BBB staff was professional and courteous, as were many residents, but some residents resorted to personal attacks and accusations. Our bus operators and operations staff provided safe service to this area every day, while faced with the customary challenges of navigating traffic and congestion.

After this meeting took place, some residents of Ocean Avenue resorted to throwing bottles at buses, riding their bicycles slowly in front of the bus, vandalizing bus stop signs, and verbally harassing drivers.

Our response was to professionally and collaboratively provide alternative solutions to this service on Ocean Avenue and to look for compromise.

We feel that the outcome was a win-win for everyone involved — not a “beating government” solution, as stated in your article of Oct. 20, which included a photo of a child striking a Big Blue Bus piñata with a stick.

Big Blue Bus’s mobility strategy is to provide viable and economical options for people who do not have access to an automobile, to allow residents to leave their automobiles at home and to reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips which clog our street infrastructure in our service area.

It seems that somewhere along the way, that concept was lost, and for many the process became one of banding together to defeat a common foe. That was unfortunate, because we were there to help the economically disenfranchised, the fragile and the socially conscious residents of Venice get to their destinations. We were also there for those who would never use our service because one goal of providing bus service in a corridor is to remove more cars from the roadway for the benefit of all residents.

Ocean Avenue, like many north-south streets in Venice, is an extremely congested corridor due to the high number of single-occupancy vehicle trips that traverse it daily. When we encourage our residents, and especially our youth, to embrace public transportation as a viable mobility option, we reduce congestion, reduce pollution and improve community wellbeing.

Big Blue Bus expanded service in Venice to help the community lessen dependence on cars, and to help those who are ready to let go of driving have an easier travel experience. We understand that the choice of Ocean Avenue was not considered by everyone to be a wise choice. Still, there is much that can be gained by continuing to work together rather than labeling each other as foes.

The problem of traffic congestion affects all of us, rich and poor, old and young. When it comes to addressing this problem, we are truly all in this together.

Let’s focus on educating our youth that public transportation is an integral component of a healthy and sustainable community, not one that should be beaten with a stick.