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Big Blue Bus Takes Greener Road

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

December 6 -- The Big Blue Bus opened a new customer service center to much fanfare Wednesday, with City officials touting the facility as one of the most environmentally friendly sites in Santa Monica.

Called “blue: the transit store,” the little shop at 223 Broadway, in between the Third Street Promenade and Second Street, has a big goal -- to provide the public with easier access to customer service.

The 900-square foot store, designed by Venice architect Warren Wagner, is the new home of the Big Blue Bus customer service team who will offer trip planning advice, maps, schedules and a variety of tickets such as Day Passes, Little Blue Cards, EZ Transit passes, Student Punch Cards and Metro EZ Passes.

“We are so pleased with how the transit store turned out, especially with all the latest green technology that is built into it,” said Stephanie Negriff, Big Blue Bus general manager.

“The downtown location just seemed natural and judging by the comments we have already received, we think the store is going to be a big success,” she said.

The transit store opened to the public a few weeks ago, but the City brought out blue-frosted cupcakes and the Blue Notes music band on Wednesday for an official grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

At its downtown Santa Monica location, the transit store is within two blocks of almost every Big Blue Bus line and is open for extended service hours -- 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Retail offerings include a custom-designed line of earth friendly merchandise such as paper products made of California wildflower seeds, organic T-shirts, transit-themed toys, beach towels and bags.

Jewelry items sold are handcrafted by Santa Monica artisans Susan Ryza and Sharon Keasling, who used recycled materials such as glass and wood beads, semi-precious stones, seashell and leather.

Tokens used in the jewelry are actual 1930s to 1950s bus tokens, found earlier this year in a vault at the Big Blue Bus storage facility.

The tokens were crafted into jewelry sold at the transit store because Big Blue Bus officials wanted the public to have the chance to wear a piece of Santa Monica history.

“The transit store is using sustainable materials throughout the site,” said mayor pro tempore Richard Bloom. “It is something the Council mandated for the project and we are now doing this kind of work for all of our new projects.”

Leading by example, he told the crowd he took Big Blue Bus Line 8 to get to Wednesday’s ceremony.

“People are already using this access point by calling in and showing up to find out how to use the Big Blue Bus,” Bloom said. “The transit store is a great facility, something we are very proud of.”

In keeping with the green building theme, energy efficient and sustainable elements used to construct the transit store include recycled rubber tire floors, recycled paper and plastic counters, renewable formaldehyde-free strawboard walls and cabinetry, windows and ceilings designed to bring in natural daylight and solar panels to light up exterior signage.

“There are certain materials that I like to use in projects like photovoltaic solar panels and strawboard,” Wagner said. “We also wanted to use Eco-surface recycled tire flooring because it just seemed completely appropriate for a transit store.”

Wagner said the most challenging aspect of the project was designing a multi-functional facility with office space for seven employees, seating for the public and retail space inside of a former hair salon.

“That is a lot of usage for a small space,” Wagner said, “but when you are inside the store, it feels very airy and spacious, partly because of the day-lighting strategy and also because of the high ceilings and light-colored materials.”

The Big Blue Bus practices sustainability in other ways as well, said Council member Kevin McKeown, an avid bicycle rider who appreciates the bicycle racks built into the front of every Big Blue Bus.

One travel secret he has maintained for several years is to take Big Blue Bus Line 3 to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

“You don’t have to hassle with parking your car or traffic,” McKeown said. “The Big Blue Bus is the answer for you not having to worry about your car, which will be safe at home.

“It is simple, easy and on time. There is a place at the front of the bus for your luggage. I have never missed a flight,” he said.

The entire Big Blue Bus fleet operates on biodiesel or other fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG), Negriff said.

Research shows that operating one LNG-fueled bus is the equivalent of eliminating smog caused by 25 to 30 cars.

If Americans used public transportation for at least 10 percent of their travel needs, the need for imported oil would be reduced by 40 percent every year, according to another cited statistic.

Council member Pam O’Connor said public transit systems are a major part of the region’s sustainability efforts.

As chair of Los Angeles County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority – which boasts 16 different municipal public transit systems -- O’Connor recently established an ad hoc committee on sustainability.

“The Big Blue Bus is a key part of the network, especially the Line 3 and 7 buses that are regional connectors,” O’Connor said. “Line 3 runs all the way from UCLA to the Green Line Station and if it was no longer operating, there would be a big hole in the county’s network.”

County officials are strengthening the public transit network with Phase 1 construction underway for the Expo Line, a light rail system between downtown Los Angeles and Culver City.

Officials from Santa Monica and other Westside communities are currently gathering public input on a Phase 2 proposal to bring the light rail line to downtown Santa Monica.

“Working together and building a transit store to help people use and access public transit is critical as is taking the Expo Line all the way to Santa Monica,” O’Connor said.

“Santa Monica has been a leader is sustainability,” she said, “but there is more we all need to do every day to achieve complete sustainability.”

Readers Fine Jewelers Advertisement


“The downtown location just seemed natural." Stephanie Negriff


“The transit store is a great facility, something we are very proud of.” Richard Bloom


“That is a lot of usage for a small space.” Warren Wagner


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