Santa Monica Lookout
City Council Votes to Eliminate Local Bus Transfers in Santa Monica
By Jason Islas
September 27, 2013 -- Starting January 1, 2014, Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus (BBB) will not offer 50 cent transfers between its bus lines after the City Council voted to eliminate the service Tuesday.
The unanimous vote to eliminate local transfers, which allow BBB customers who pay the full dollar fare on one bus line to connect to another line for an additional 50 cents, would help the City-subsidized agency shore up revenues without raising fares, BBB officials told the Council.
“We want to keep our base fare at a dollar,” said Director of Transit Services Edward King. And by eliminating transfers, he said, BBB could do just that and still increase annual revenues by $325,620.
King also said that eliminating transfers, which cost BBB about $90,000 a year to print, would also encourage customers to switch to BBB's new $7 million SmartCard system, expected to come online early next year.
With the system, customers will be able to load value -- or passes -- onto reusable cards and have their fares deducted automatically as they board buses.
King said that by eliminating transfers, customers would be encouraged to buy “multi-ride” tickets, such as day passes, that would allow them an unlimited number of rides over a 24-hour period.
But day passes would only be available to customers using the SmartCard system.
Estimating that it takes about 20 seconds for each customer to pay his fare with cash, King said the new SmartCard system would speed up boarding times in addition to allowing passengers greater flexibility when it comes to paying fares.
Addressing concerns that eliminating transfers would adversely affect BBB's neediest customers -- namely seniors, the disabled or those with Medicare -- King said that day passes and fares would remain discounted for them.
A discounted day pass will cost $1.50, King said. That's the same as one full fare and a transfer.
King also said that eliminating transfers would affect only a small portion of BBB's customers.
“This impacts less than 3.8 percent of our customers at the end of the day,” he said.
“We carried almost 19 million customers last year,” said King, adding that in the same time period, BBB sold 724,778 non-discounted transfers and about 100,000 transfers to seniors, disabled people or people with Medicare.
Switching over to the “smart card” system is part of a long-term plan to better integrate BBB into an expanding regional public transit system.
“A long range goal is to have a seamless regional fare system,” said King, in response to Councilmember Gleam Davis.
At Tuesday's meeting, Davis held up transit passes for two public transit systems and asked, “How do I get my two cards into one card?”
King said that BBB is getting ready to roll out a “customer education program” to help facilitate the transition to the new fare system.
With six strategically-placed ticket vending machines and retailers selling the new SmartCards, King said that BBB hopes to boost its number of non-cashing paying customers from 15 percent -- currently using BBB's reusable paper ticket system -- to 30 percent.
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