Proposed design for new Big Blue Bus stops

Given how rowdy entertaining transit meetings can be, sometimes they hold my attention better than NBC Must See TV. The annual meeting of the Big Blue Bus last night was no exception.

The highlights:

1. Fares are going up. Big Blue Bus’s Dan Dawson presented two fare restructuring proposals that include raising the basic fare from 75 cents to either $1.25 or $1.50; eliminating transfers between BBBs; and establishing a 30-day fare card. (For more details, check out GreenLAGirl's very good coverage).

Dawson noted during the Q&A that subsidized fares paid by UCLA commuters will not change until BBB renegotiates its contract with UCLA. (Note: UCLA commuters will continue to pay $22.50 for a quarterly pass or a 25c copay through at least the end of this academic school year.)

Raising fares always stinks. But Dawson and BBB’s Stephanie Negriff laid things out like this:

  • Operating costs are going up: Increases in health insurance and congestion is impacting BBB. With average travel speeds declining by 4% over the past three years, BBB’s operating costs have gone up because they deploy more buses on the streets just to maintain the “status quo”.
  • Operating subsidies are going down. That the Governator initially proposed doing away with the portion of the state sales tax that goes to fund transit operations, and replacing it with a general tax that is five cents lower than the current one is not helping things. (Source: LATimes).
  • BBB has been operating with a structural deficit for 3 years. And the proposed fare increases would only close one half of that structural deficit. BBB is looking to close the other half of the deficit through looking for ways to lower operating costs and applying for more subsidies.

On the upside, BBB also wants to move forward fast and cash-less boardings, so their plan also includes competitively pricing day and monthly passes. However, they also plan to eliminate the Little Blue Card, which is a declining balance card that some UCLA commuters may have been purchasing from the Central Ticket Office. Personally, I’m disappointed by this decision, but I’ll hold out for the day that BBB upgrades to TAP with a declining balance feature.

2.New website going live in July 2010, complete with NextBus information and features that made me perk-up, like the promise of social media content.

3. We might be getting better bus stops in the City of Santa Monica. This is because the federal government is willing to fund capital improvements, but not operating costs. Redeveloping bus stops counts as a capital improvement, so there is money for this…

4. More buses. Hybrid buses arriving in summer 2010 and articulated buses arriving in mid 2010, rolling out in 2011 on the Rapid 3 and Rapid 7.

The most informative part of attending a community meeting is tuning into the questions and concerns of my fellow citizens. Again, the highlights:

  • Juan asked if Big Blue Bus had considered implementing technology that makes it possible to scan a QR code on at a bus stop with a web-enabled smartphone to find out when the next bus is coming. Paul Casey said that he just spoke to someone at SnapIt about this very idea earlier in the week, and that BBB’s marketing manager is talking to the web developers about this.
  • An older gentleman named Jerry stood up at least three times to sing the praises of the Big Blue Bus.
  • A person likened the Rapid 3 and Rapid 7 to a boondoggle (a dramatic word, don’t you think?) since he never saw passengers on those routes. Stephanie Negriff and Paul Casey explained that the Rapid routes were their best performing lines in the system, and that the buses may not be full throughout their entire route. Buses on Rapid 7, for instance, are often crowded between Fairfax and and SMC.