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Big Blue Bus Continues to Lose Riders
By Jorge Casuso
November 21, 2019 -- Ridership on Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus (BBB) continued its downward slide, dropping by more than 650,000 passengers, or 5 percent, agency officials reported Wednesday.
The ridership loss -- from 13.187 million passengers to 12.536 million -- continues a nearly decade-long trend, according to BBB data.
"Ridership losses were not concentrated in one area, but instead were spread across the BBB system.," the Fiscal Year-End Performance Report said.
But the downward slide that saw double-digit drops in ridership in recent years could be leveling off, according to the latest data.
A series of series of strategies recently implemented to attract customers is paying off, said Edward F. King, the City's Director of Transit Services.
The strategies include reallocating resources from poorly performing routes to those "where people rode transit the most, thereby encouraging efficiency and customer satisfaction," King said.
The major changes took place in March of this year and accompany efforts to reduce cash boardings, boost mobile ticketing and offer Wi-Fi on select buses, officials said.
"Together, these improvements have helped attract customers and have begun to turn the tide of ridership," King said.
Data for the first quarter of the current fiscal year -- from July 1 to September 30 -- shows ridership increased by 6.2 percent, compared to the same period last year, King said.
"This upward trend in ridership has continued into the second quarter," he said.
The loss of BBB riders reflects a trend experienced by other regional bus services that saw ridership fall by between 3 and 10 percent, the report said.
"A recent UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) report found that increased car ownership likely explains much of the transit ridership decline in Southern California," the report said.
The study found that low-income riders, particularly immigrants, are abandoning public buses and, in most cases, the region’s light-rail systems, as they scrape together enough money to buy their own vehicles.
Among foreign-born residents, zero-vehicle households were down 42 percent, according to the study ("UCLA Study Suggests Low-Income Riders in Santa Monica, Southern California Switching to Own Wheels," February 6, 2018).
The BBB also took a major hit from the Expo rail line that opened in Santa Monica in May 2016 ("Ridership Plunges on Santa Monica City Buses as Expo Popularity Soars," January 17, 2018).
Especially hit were routes parallel to light rail line, which lost almost a third of their riders in Expo's first year.
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