“We have been full partners at all levels of this community to see this through and that gives me a great deal of satisfaction as the head of this organization to have people really appreciate and have us willing partners to get through some very difficult times.”
Baby Steps to Transit
The Mini Blue service consists of smaller buses that run every 15 to 20 minutes. “We designed a Mini Blue system that is really supposed to be just for Santa Monica and it kind of was our first step of saying, how do we actually get people who don’t know how or aren’t normally inclined to ride transit, on a bus,” states Negriff.
Through telephone surveys of non-riders, Big Blue Bus learned it needed smaller, shuttle-like vehicles, clean vehicles and direct short routes.
“It was to demystify transit so that we could give people a chance, an opportunity to try it, even if they’re only going to the city of Santa Monica.” Negriff explains, “The idea was really to create the feeder network so that people could get used to using it then when the rail comes, we won’t have to have park-and-ride lots, we won’t have people driving to the rail station, we’ll have a network in place to do it.
“This system was developed at a time that we didn’t have new money available to put service out. We did it by becoming more lean and more efficient in our own operations with collaboration with the ESTES partnership and other things, we were able to kind of package the funding together to deliver the service,” she states.
“My goal is to really create a system that makes it easy or inviting for someone who’s never used a bus,” Negriff says. “It’s just amazing how when people are being really honest and saying, I’m just afraid to try it.”
She mentions how a few times, they had to put a 40-foot bus out on the route. “I’ve gotten calls from people, ‘There’s only a bus coming every 30 minutes.’
“So I’ll call and ask, did we miss a trip?” She says, “They say, ‘No, everything is out.’ So I’m like what is going on?
“It’s that they only recognize the little 30-footers. So even though the 40-footer will say The Tide Ride, it will go right by them and they said ‘No, it needs to be distinctive. We need to know it’s this one.’”
Negriff explains the riders say, “Just give us some baby steps. Give us our little mini bus and maybe once we get comfortable with that, we will be willing to try.”
The Big Blue Bus is just starting to embark on a bus stop redevelopment program that will redesign all of the bus stops, add bus shelters at high-volume stops, new maps, real-time signage and an IVR system so riders can call and find out when the next bus is coming to the stop.
The target is to complete the overhaul in 24 months, Ramirez says. “Part of that depends on the budget and partially on, well, actually most of it depends on the budget,” he says with a laugh.
“We will replace everything, even the smallest stop with the smallest number of boardings. That whole pole system will be replaced with something that is new and fresh, will look nice.” He adds, “Really upgrade the image of public transportation; make it both more exciting and also easier to ride.”
With the advanced fleet management system from Continental that was first implemented about five years ago, Ramirez says they’re ready to move forward with it and describes the signs they’re working to get for their new stops. “It’s a really cool, smooth, small, almost plasma-like sign. It’s very high-tech looking.”
He also says it uses a lot less electricity, and is hoping to have it run on solar power.
He shares that they have already gone to the city council three times with three different designs and each one has been rejected because the city council wants something that is really special. “My little thing that I’ve been telling people now is, you know what the city council wants is they want a piece of functional art. They don’t want a bus shelter.
“It has to be something that’s really iconic to the city and really beautiful.” He stresses, “And I’m glad they want that because when people see just a square little shelter, it’s like, ‘Oh, public transit.’ But if they see something that’s just really dynamic, cool, they’re going to stand up and take notice and probably be more inclined to try it.”