As we noted in May, Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus had plans to shake up its service to improve connections with Metro Rail. Well those changes — detailed here [PDF] — went live on Sunday and there’s some good news for Metro riders.
The BBB has extended the eastern terminus of its Rapid 7 line from Rimpau Terminal to the Wilshire/Western Metro Rail station. And to help boost capacity on the popular line, Big Blue Bus has added 16 60-foot articulated buses to the fleet. They’re the same sort that you can find on the busier Metro Rapid lines, but clad in striking royal blue.
So with that in mind, I decided to try out the new service yesterday morning en route to Metro headquarters from my apartment just south of Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica.
Shortly after I arrived at the 28th Street Rapid 7 stop, one of the new 60-footers cruised up and I hopped on. From Santa Monica to Mid-City Los Angeles, the trip was just as it would have been a month ago. But instead of terminating at Rimpau Terminal, the bus made a stop on Pico at Rimpau Boulevard and then continued east toward Crenshaw Boulevard. A few blocks later we were jogging up Crenshaw and over to the Wilshire/Western Purple Line station, stopping conveniently on the same corner as the station portal.
Only a half-dozen people were with me when we reached the end of the line, but it’s safe to say those numbers will pick up as more people become aware of the new route and get used to it. On that front, a couple travelers on Wilshire seemed surprised and confused to see a Big Blue Bus in Koreatown. One commuter was dismayed — surely not the first nor last — when he found out he couldn’t use his Metro bus tokens on the Santa Monica bus.
The bus leg of the trip took about 50 minutes. Traffic seemed pretty light, but the timetable suggests that’s a typical amount of time. With the connection to the Purple Line, I was from my couch to the Metro cafeteria in about an hour and 20 minutes.
If you’re thinking, hmm, that’s kind of a long trip, you’d be right. Indeed, if your goal is to travel from downtown L.A. to downtown Santa Monica — and vice-versa — there are faster and cheaper ways, namely the Rapid 10 Express, which uses the 10 Freeway to speed up the trip.
For that reason, the new Rapid 7–Metro Rail connection is a boon mainly for riders starting or ending their trips in Mid-City and Central L.A. neighborhoods. That said, all travelers along Pico Boulevard will benefit from the 60-foot buses and the greater chance of getting a seat after a long day.
Lastly, if you’re wondering why Big Blue Bus only just now made the connection to the Purple Line, the answer goes back to a 1971 law that determined which corridors in L.A. County would be served by each municipal bus agency. The idea was to avoid having transit providers competing against one another when they’re sharing public funding from the same source based on ridership. Suffice it to say, it took a little while to get everyone on the same page to make an exception to allow Big Blue Bus and Metro to share the Crenshaw and Wilshire corridors.
For those who really want to wonk out — myself included — here’s a map from the 1971 agreement that shows the Pico corridor.
Thanks to Matthew Barrett of Metro’s Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library for his help researching this post.