Will the money be returned for the Big Blue Bus?

Santa Monica City Council is discussing the possibility of restoring cash service for buses

From Dolores Quintana

Santa Monica lawmakers recently discussed the possibility of reinstating cash payments for Big Blue Bus rides.

As of July 12, 202, Santa Monica Big Blue Buses will no longer accept cash payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to minimize contact between drivers and passengers for safety reasons, it may have become more difficult for members of vulnerable groups to take the city bus. Low-income, elderly, disabled, college students, and homeless people in the community have faced problems because they do not have access to MTA Tap cards or find it just as difficult to top up these cards even if they acquire them. While Big Blue Buses are designed to offer rides to anyone who needs them, regardless of their ability to pay, some people report that this is not always the case.

On September 14th, the Santa Monica City Council discussed item 13B on the agenda to resolve this issue and make bus rides available to all community members. Council members Phil Brock, Oscar de la Torre and high school student Olivia Landon wrote this discussion together. At the point it called for the Santa Monica bus system to be re-funded by instructing the city manager to reintroduce cash payments on Big Blue Bus lines or to make TAP card buying and topping up more convenient and accessible by More places can be added where members of the public can purchase and download these cards cheaply locally.

Councilor Phil Brock introduced the article, citing the example of his elderly mother, who has never had a credit card and always uses cash or checks. He stated that she is not good at handling smartphones and cannot drive as things stand. Councilor

“The reason for this request is simple. We have to make sure that the least of us always have access to public transport, ”said Brock.

Councilor Gleam Davis asked Brock about residents’ ability to purchase TAP cards at various retail locations, and Brock pointed out that the Big Blue Bus website had phoned retail stores claiming to sell TAP cards and the result was disappointing. Of the 15 retail stores contacted, only one sold and refilled TAP cards, one claimed to have TAP cards but did not refill them, one only refilled TAP cards in prohibitively large amounts of $ 20-25, 6 had incorrect contact information, 6 say they don’t sell TAP cards at all even though they are listed on the BBB site.

There have been a number of comments from community members highlighting the various aspects of this issue. Landon, co-author of the article, pointed out that she believes the survey the Department of Transportation is trying to conduct on bus drivers is unfair. She said, “The people who don’t have access to the internet, phone or TAP card cannot answer the survey. The results are therefore inevitably biased and speak in favor of cashless payment. “

Eric O’Connor, Santa Monica’s assistant director of transportation, said there are 91 TAP outlets in the service area and that the city will be checking out the outlets to make sure they have TAP cards. He stated that although there have been incidents of community members being refused travel for not getting the fare, Big Blue Bus drivers are not trained to refuse passengers. According to O’Connor, the cashless operation saves 9,000 hours of waiting time.

City councilor Lana Negrete asked about the bus drivers who refused to work. O’Connor stated that it has always been the Big Blue Bus policy to provide service when a driver is unable to pay. Additionally, O’Connor stated that cash plans are not a money maker and actually cost more than they make. Negrete asked if there were future toll-free rides related to an earlier point, toll-free bus rides for school children, and O’Connor stated that negotiations were still ongoing.

Mayor Sue Himmelrich argued that if it costs the city more to take cash than to operate cashless buses, it would be counterproductive to reintroduce cash into the bus fare system. She said they need to fix every part of the policy that has been neglected.

Councilor Brock asked for a temporary reinstatement of cash payments. Councilor Davis noted that she found it uncomfortable to make such a decision without a fuller discussion. Councilor de la Torre suggested it might be a good idea to distribute pre-loaded TAP cards on buses, and Mayor Himmelrich agreed. Mayor Pro Tem Kristen McCowan agreed that the article should be sent back to staff for further analysis and that an attempt should be made to repeat the policy to avoid possible denial of service to the drivers.

Mayor Himmelrich changed the point, which was eventually passed unanimously, to instruct staff to strengthen the policy that non-payers can continue to drive. In addition, the amended point instructs officers to give TAP cards to as many people as possible. As a third part of the revised point, employees were instructed to think of other ways to obtain TAP cards.

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