As part of Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus security improvements, surveillance cameras will be installed on all the Santa Monica municipal buses.

Four cameras will capture the inside of the bus, and two will monitor the outside of the bus.

“Research has shown that other cities that use cameras on their buses have decreased their costs significantly,” said Dan Dawson, marketing and public information coordinator for the Big Blue Bus.

Any form of public transportation operating in some of the highest traffic areas, as the Big Blue Bus does, is bound to be involved in accidents, according to Dawson.

In case of an accident, the city can view the recorded visual information and assess who is actually at fault.

The city expects the addition of cameras to bring down the number of claims against the city and to increase the safety of passengers.

Bus officials also hope the cameras will reduce any vandalism on the buses as well as altercations between fellow passengers and between passengers and the driver.

“Studies say passengers feel safe on the Big Blue Bus, but in this post 9/11-world, security remains an important consideration and cameras represent another step to maintain security,” Dawson says.

In addition to the installation of surveillance cameras on all the buses, the largest overhaul of the fleet in years is under way on the older buses.

The facelift includes removing dings and scratches, painting the outside, adding new interior lighting, seats and floors and installing newer and easier-to-use wheelchair lifts.

City officials say that even though these older buses operate on diesel, they run incredibly efficiently and put out less pollution than most diesels because their engines are regularly removed for cleaning.

Last year Santa Monica received 37 buses that run on the alternative fuel liquefied natural gas (LNG).

By the end of this year the city will receive 53 more new buses, making half of the fleet less than two years old and running on alternative fuel.

The long-term goal is to change more of the fleet to liquefied natural gas, but with the current makeover it’s not economically feasible to eliminate the diesel buses and buy more alternative fuel buses to replace them, according to city officials.

The liquefied natural gas buses use fuel much like what is used to heat residences, but it’s cooled to a liquid.

These buses put 80 percent less nitrogen oxide into the air, the engines run quieter, and there are no fumes.

The buses are also safer because the fuel is so cold it doesn’t explode, but evaporates. The liquefied natural gas buses sink to curb level when stopping, making it easier for passengers to board, and they have wider aisles.

Use of the Big Blue Bus increased significantly for about ten years, but after 2001 it has decreased.

“Ridership is traditionally linked to the economy, and when it takes a dive, so does ridership,” said Dawson.

“It’s a common public transportation statistic that when people lose jobs they don’t ride the bus,” he said.

To track use and to improve service, the city conducts a line-by-line analysis every three years. After the department analyzes the data the department presents the results of the survey to the public and asks for public input on improvements.

Although the data from the most recent survey is still being analyzed, the latest statistics show the system-wide average passenger boarding, per vehicle, is 53 boardings per hour.

The most traveled route, Pico Boulevard, is 75 passengers per hour. This route passes Santa Monica College, one of the biggest boarding areas, has a major service transfer point and runs through a higher-density residential area.

Line 11, the small commuter loop that hits Santa Monica’s public buildings, has an average of 34 boardings per hour.

“The city doesn’t have the unrealistic expectation that someone will use the bus every day,” said Dawson. “But if someone has the opportunity, we hope they will take the bus and help decrease pollution and traffic congestion.”

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