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Council to Consider Accepting Cash Fares on Buses Again

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

September 10, 2021 -- Two months after Santa Monica buses stopped accepting cash fares, the City Council will revisit a policy that may be hurting the poor and elderly.

Councilmembers Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre placed an item on Tuesday's agenda directing the City Manager "to require that the Big Blue Bus either restore the acceptance of cash payments" or make it easier to buy TAP cards across the City.

The move comes after the Big Blue Bus on July 12 launched a new completely contactless fare payment system that only accepts mobile ticketing or the regional TAP fare payment system.

In proposing the move, transit officials acknowledged the new system could adversely impact a growing number of low-income passengers ("Big Blue Bus to Stop Accepting Cash, Fare Cards; Could Impact the Poor," June 25, 2021).

According to the agenda item, "By not being able to pay in cash, the bus becomes inconvenient to ride and discriminates against people experiencing homelessness as well as low-income, disabled, and elderly people in the community."

"It is obvious that if you cannot travel to the Big Blue Bus store by foot, car, or bicycle, and/or do not possess a credit card it is now impossible to ride our municipal bus line," the item said.

The item was co-written by Santa Monica High School student Olivia Landon, whose testimony before the Council opposing the cashless system inspired Brock to suggest the change.

"She's fighting the fight everybody in Santa Monica should be fighting for their neighbors," Brock said. "We're trying to get people to be green (by riding public transit) yet we won't take cash."

Brock said he has spoken to seniors who can only board the bus with cash to get to the few designated locations where they can purchase tap cards. "I have heard this throughout the City," Brock said.

According to the item, the Council should direct staff to either accept cash or "make using and getting TAP cards more convenient by adding more locations around the city to acquire and recharge TAP cards."

De la Torre believes the agency's switch to cashless fare systems was too abrupt and did not allow for a smooth transition.

"The idea is to make public transportation as accessible as we can'" de la Torre said. "To do it one day to the next is not the best approach."

Big Blue Bus officials said they eased the transition in mid-April, by beginning to distribute a free 30-Day pass to any customer who pledged to use contactless fares.

They also plan to work "with vulnerable populations to address concerns, remove barriers, and to create communications and programs that empower all users to embrace contactless fares."

The agency will survey passengers during the pilot program and hold public hearings in the fall to get feedback from customers, then report to the Council, officials said.

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