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Santa Monica Set to Offer Deep Discounts for Young Bus Riders
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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 7, 2016 -- Santa Monica is expected to offer deeper than ever discounts to young bus riders in 2017 after a temporary price cut triggered a record rise in use among high school students despite otherwise lagging ridership.

A Big Blue Bus (BBB) youth pass drops to $19 a month, down from $28 monthly, as part of a two-year pilot project the City is set to put in place next year.

Transit staff's most recent report (which went to the City Council Tuesday) doesn’t say when next year the discounts would start, but the first round of price cuts began last January 1 ("Santa Monica City Funding Knocks Down Price for Youth Bus Rides," October 30, 2015).

Sales of the $28-a-month passes reached a record high in 2016, with 2,915 sold through September. Historically for the month of August (the most popular month for sales), the numbers have been much lower.

The Big Blue Bus sold 170 such passes in 2013, 226 again in 2014 and 278 in 2015, the report to the council said.

Staff projects sales of the youth passes will be well over 4,275 in 2017.

The report anticipates having to subsidize the price cuts with $91,024 over the two-year program.

The youth pass allows those between the ages of five and eighteen to ride any line, any time during a thirty-day consecutive period. Passes are can be used year round.

Santa Monica High School, parents, students and the Parent Teachers Association have lobbied the City for the discounted passes, saying they help families financially.

The passes also help reduce congestion around the high school, which is near the Civic Center and downtown, officials said. Congestion at the campus peaks during the start of the work day for businesses, City Hall and the courts.

Although students comprise only a small portion of overall BBB ridership, the rise in their use of buses is good news for the municipal bus system, transit officials say. Despite years of increased funding, BBB’s ridership is declining overall.

Ridership dropped to about 16.5 million passengers at the end of the 2015-2016 fiscal year on July 1, down almost 12 percent from about 18.7 million riders in fiscal year 2014-2015, said Director of Transit Services Edward King ("Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus Continues Losing Riders," November 8, 2016).

The bus system raised fares this year, in part to help offset an overhaul of services that align routes with the Expo Light Rail line, which began running in Santa Monica in May ("Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus Fares Going Up This Weekend," January 7, 2016 and "Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus Ushers in Major Changes," June 16, 2016).

BBB did lose some riders to the trains, but officials say that over the long haul people will use buses for “first and last mile” connections to their final destinations.

The BBB’s target is expected to reach 20,000 daily riders by 2020.

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