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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

September 9, 2016 -- Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) students could soon be riding the Big Blue Bus (BBB) at what City Councilmember Kevin McKeown calls an “extremely reduced cost.”

McKeown placed a proposal on the council meeting agenda for Tuesday to ask City staff to explore creating a two-year pilot program. He told The Lookout he hoped it would feature “superpasses” for less than $20 per month.

“This pilot program won't benefit just the students and parents of SMMUSD schools,” McKeown wrote in an email to The Lookout.

He continued, “All drivers whose travels take them close to campuses will benefit if there are fewer parent-piloted SUVs dropping off and picking up students, or, in the case of Samohi, students themselves driving and competing for parking in nearby neighborhoods.”

Under McKeown’s plan, students could use the passes not just to get to school, but for any purpose at any time.

“Looking forward, this could help Santa Monica nurture a whole new generation of residents for whom mass transit is a lifelong option preferable to relying only on cars and driving,” McKeown wrote.

Young people can buy 30-day unlimited passes for $28 as part of an ongoing pilot program begun in January. The council approved that pilot program, which reduced the cost of the pass from $40, last fall at the urging of McKeown.

City staff is studying whether the current pilot program increases ridership by young people. Some council members said last year that they were skeptical whether it would.

“I think the reason people aren’t riding the bus is issues of convenience,” said Councilmember Davis at the October 2015 meeting when the pilot program was approved. “I think they’ve gotten used to” riding in a vehicle to and from school.

Santa Monica College (SMC) and UCLA students ride the BBB for free under agreements those schools have with the City.

The schools pay for this luxury, with SMC’s contribution funded by student government. No such funding sources exist within the SMMUSD.

“The question has been asked [by the City] and answered repeatedly by the school district that they’d love to do it, but they don’t have the dough,” City Manager Rick Cole told the council last fall.

McKeown’s proposed program would be underwritten by the City’s general fund.

He told The Lookout that BBB Director Ed King said money should be used for the proposed program that the council had allocated to meet its “mobil priority” goal of creating better ways for people to get to places that reduce traffic and climate change.

City money allocated for this goal has been used to fund the GoSaMo campaign that encourages people to uses means aside from driving to move around, the BOGO program ending this week that allows people to buy one BBB pass and get one free, the realignment of BBB routes and the Expo-connective cab service “Blue at Night” ("Santa Monica Greets Train's Arrival with Festivities, Campaign," May 20, 2016 and "Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus Ushers in Major Changes," June 16, 2016).

If McKeown is able to get a majority of his colleagues on the dais to support his proposal on Tuesday, City staff will study it further and bring a proposal before the council for a final vote.

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