“We just tried to think of everything we could to make it as green as possible,” states Ramirez. He guesses they probably paid about 15 to 20 percent more in making the store green, but stresses, “It was really our mission to do that and we wanted to showcase that.” He also adds that for a city green building tour, the Transit Store was featured as one of the only businesses on the tour.
Negriff says, “The bottom line is, we know that if people use public transportation instead of driving their automobiles then that is good for the environment. But our message, we say that very subtly, and the idea is that if you see the Big Blue Bus as an environmentally supportive or sustainable agency, then you will want to use it and it’s been a huge message.”
She adds, “Needless to say, within a city like Santa Monica, practically every household has an automobile and it’s not a natural step to use public transportation but we get a tremendous amount of support from our community because they make the connection.
“Public transportation is good for the environment so that means the Big Blue Bus is good for the environment and we like the Big Blue Bus.”
With several billion dollars of state transit assistance money deferred from public transit to address other state budget concerns in recent years, the Big Blue Bus has had its struggles to still operate effectively. “It was real devastating to completely lose the state transit assistance account for this coming fiscal year,” says Negriff.
“We are working with the California Transit Association now to try and do what ever we can to get the message out of the importance of restoring those funds.”
She says they are counting their blessings that Los Angeles voters voted for Measure R in November, a half-cent sales tax for transportation that went into effect July 1 of this year. But, they’re challenged because they’re going to be collecting about half of what they should be on an annual basis. “We’re dealing with a $2.5 million deficit next year as a result of that,” she says.
“We are looking at where we can refine our services to try and just get through what is going to be a very difficult budget year for us.” A budget that is complicated by the fact that they need to be putting more service out on the streets.
Big Blue Bus carries about 55 to 57 passengers an hour on average on its system, with its most productive lines carrying upward of 70 passengers an hour. When ridership grows on a line like that, more service is needed out there.
“We’re looking at where we can reduce service on our least productive lines so that we can redeploy that service where we’re experiencing substantial overcrowding,” Negriff says.
Taking Line 3 from the airport to the agency, I witnessed the standing-room only of one of their more productive lines. “Yeah, Line 3 and Line 7 … the Line 7 carries 25 percent of the 22 million passengers that we carry every year,” she says. “We can run three-minute service there and still have standing loads.”
As the fastest growing line in the system, they’ve added more service to Line 3 in the last 10 years than on any other single line and as fast as service is added, they’ll see standing loads.
“Even though the stimulus dollars are great and are going to have a huge impact in the restoration of our economy, it’s all capital dollars,” says Negriff. “While we make the best use of the capital dollars that we have available, it’s a shame that we don’t have the operating dollars to complement the increase in the capital dollars so we can go out and make a real impact.
“One of the ways that they’ve tried to address the issue is creating partnerships within our community.” She explains, “We’re looking for partnerships because our business community understands the value of the Big Blue Bus to the local economy on bringing people to a local business community that is being significantly impacted by this economy.
“We have these beautiful coastal hotels but our transit occupancy taxes are coming in below projections this year as a result of the economy.” She continues, “We are working with them to promote buying locally so that we can encourage people to come in and shop and stay and dine; spend money in Santa Monica.