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Santa Monica Set to Renew Free Bus Rides for SMC Students and Staff  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

May 9, 2017 -- Hoping to expand flagging ridership for its municipal bus system, the City of Santa Monica is set to continue offering free bus rides to students and staff at Santa Monica City College, although SMC will provide reimbursement.

The “Any Line, Any Time” unlimited ride agreement between the Big Blue Bus and SMC is being recommended for another three years, and is expected to be approved by the City Council tonight.

SMC will reimburse BBB for the free bus service in the amount of $1,453,172 for the 2017-2018 fiscal year and $1,504,033 the following fiscal year.

In the 2019-2020 year -- the final year of the agreement -- the reimbursement rises to $1,556,673, a staff report said.

The current contract ends July 30.

As with the entire BBB system, SMC-related ridership declined during that period, dropping to 2,554,326 passengers in 2015 from 2,359,623 last year, or about eight percent, the report said.

This year, there have been 1,184,752 passengers so far, the report said.

“Although there is a modest decline in ridership, which is consistent with trends throughout the County and the United States on all bus transit systems, the program is tremendously successful in reducing single occupancy vehicle trips to the campus and surrounding Santa Monica neighborhoods,” said the report from Edward King, director of Big Blue Bus, planning and community engagement.

BBB ridership has been declining for at least six years, posting a 12 percent drop in passengers in the 2015-2016 fiscal year alone, or from 18.7 million to about 16.5 million, according to the National Transit Database compiled by the Federal Transit Administration.

Still, the BBB is crucial to the City’s efforts to wean residents, workers and visitors from cars to “multimodal” alternate choices, like buses, Expo Light Rail trains, biking and walking.

Officials are banking on bus use to rise as Expo -- the first train service to Santa Monica in more than half a century -- brings in more people and the residential and workforce populations increase.

Under the new agreement, BBB charges SMC a fixed annual amount for all passengers with a valid, activated current SMC identification card.

The program dates back a decade, when SMC’s 34,300 students and 1,700 staff were primary source of traffic –- most of from vehicles.

BBB’s post-Evolution of Blue analysis is to begin shortly and will evaluate market trends and origin-destination travel trends for all services tied to SMC, the report said.

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