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Big Blue Bus Fare Increase Delayed  

By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

May 7, 2010 --The City Council hearing on proposed fare hikes and other modifications to the Big Blue Bus service charges will not take place on Tuesday as originally planned. The hearing has been moved to the May 25 Council meeting.

“The change allows for the presentation of additional information requested by Council,” a press release issued by the City stated.

The Council was presented with a proposal at its April 27 meeting. Council members said they wanted more information on possible revenue enhancements and other budget adjustments, including Blue Bus service reductions, that could be done as an alternative to rate hikes. Also, several council members were uncomfortable with the fare increases proposed.

Among the features of the April 27 proposal were fare increases for regular riders from 75 cents to $1.25, for seniors and the disabled from 25 cents to 60 cents and for students from 50 cents to 75 cents. Greater fare increases were proposed as an alternative, but those were not even considered for discussion. Also under the plan, the 50-cent transfer was designated for elimination as a method to increase interest in the $4 unlimited use day pass.

“If we were going from 75 cents to a dollar, I don’t think I’d freak out,” Council member Kevin McKeown said at the meeting. “But going from 75 cents to $1.25 with no transfer, that’s a significant change.”

Several council members said they were especially troubled by the increase to senior and disabled customers, fearing it would keep them mostly homebound.

The Blue Bus is facing a $6.1 million deficit next fiscal year, City officials said. That hole could grow to $16


million if nothing is done to change the fare schedule or to increase revenue. Stefanie Negriff, Santa Monica’s director of transit services, said that without fare increases to curb the Blue Bus’ deficit, an estimated 7 percent service reduction, including a “drastic” decrease in weekend bus availability, would have to take place.

The May 25 hearing will come one day prior to the start of a two-day Council budget study session. The City must cut at least $6.9 million in spending next fiscal year, which begins in July, to maintain a balanced budget, according to a presentation made by Finance Director Carol Swindell in February.

The actual deficit is projected to be higher than that, but approximately $6 million will be taken from the City’s “economic uncertainty fund” to bridge some of the gap between revenue and spending.

The City’s loss of revenue was blamed on decreased sales for Santa Monica’s various major tax contributors. Car sales, which cover more than 20 percent of the City’s sales tax revenue, dropped 13 percent from 2007 to 2009.

Among the plans to take on this deficit are increasing rates for some City services such as the Blue Bus, as well as reduced funding or even elimination of funding for some programs. Several Council members spoke of this reality in March when the Council voted to increase fares on the Carousel to offset its deficit.

“It’s not just the carousel,” Council member Gleam Davis said at that meeting. ”We’re going to be making these hard decisions about a lot of other things going forward, and people need to be prepared for them.”

The Council is expected to vote on the City’s 2010-11 budget at its June 18 meeting.


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