By Ann K. Williams
February 18 -- Pressure is mounting to save the existing route of the Tide Shuttle line, created to ferry residents and visitors from Santa Monica's hotels to Downtown shops, after it came on the City Council's chopping block last month.
Budget cuts and not enough riders prompted the Big Blue Bus to recommend curtailing shuttle service Downtown and reroute the shuttle to the new Annenberg Beach Club at 415 PCH, which is slated to open this spring. But not everyone agrees with the transit authority's proposal.
"We want to change something that doesn't work into something we could really use," said Kathleen Rawson, executive director of the Bayside District Corporation.
"We're in this recession together, and the Big Blue Bus has the opportunity to be a hero and get all these customers down here."
Rawson acknowledges that ridership on the Tide is low, but believes other alternatives need to be explored before taking Downtown out of the loop.
On average, only 12 riders an hour are now using the Tide line, and a new shuttle line will be needed bring summer revelers to the public beach club, according to transit officials.
So Big Blue Bus officials proposed a new circuit, cutting out the downtown stops, which they said duplicated stops already served by two other lines.
"Big Blue Bus never wants to reduce service, but these are unusually difficult financial times and we have to make difficult choices," said Dan Dawson, public relations manager for the Blue Bus.
"And we try to make cuts that affect the fewest people in our overall service," he said.
Not only are Tide Shuttle ridership numbers low, but the money to keep all the bus lines running is being drastically cut in Sacramento this year, as State officials try to bridge a projected $41 billion budget deficit, Dawson said.
The State Transit Assistance Fund, bankrolled by a gas tax approved by California voters, is being used for purposes other than transportation this year, and the legislature is considering eliminating the fund altogether in the future, he said.
So, to help make up the $3.5 million it will lose from the State this year, the Big Blue Bus will have to cut service. The City Council already revamped many of the Blue Bus routes to save money during the economic crunch. (“Council Tackles Traffic, Parking,” February 2, 2009)
If transit officials can’t cut down on the Tide Shuttle service, they will have to cut service on lines with 50 to 60 riders per hour that have seen ridership increase during tough economic times, blue bus officials warn.
If approved by the council, the proposed new Tide line would encircle a much larger area and provide north-south service on 14th Street.
It also would serve shops on Montana Avenue before dropping down to PCH to the Annenberg Beach House as well making stops at beach parking lots on its way back to Ocean Park.
And it would only run on weekends from May to October.
The council is expected to vote on whether to eliminate the existing route at its meeting next week.