Ride review: Big Blue Bus Rapid 7 to Wilshire/Western

The new 60-foot Rapid 7 bus turning left from Wilshire onto Western in front of the Wiltern Theater.

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.

Comfy leather seats still have that new bus smell.

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.

20 replies

  1. @Erik G. Nope. I tried that out yesterday. I work in Santa Monica and live in downtown LA. The Rapid 7/Purple Line combination took 1 hour and 50 minutes in rush hour. The BBB Rapid 10 took 50 minutes. This is from boarding at Pico/Bundy.

    Look at the timetables….the Rapid 10 is still a much faster option. Test it out for yourself.

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  2. So SMBBB doesn’t use TAP? What a downer. :(

    I hate carrying around cash and loose change and my wallet is already full of cards.

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  3. @LA of Anaheim:
    I agree that Rapid 10 is usually faster, but looking at the schedules…

    A trip I took this week involved my using the frequent SMBBB 1 north from the Main Street commercial area to get to 3rd & Santa Monica Blvd. to catch Rapid 10. I ended up using the 3:23pm departure from the Promenade having just missed the 3:08pm. That trip is scheduled to arrive at L.A. Union Station at 4:42pm.

    Had I ridden SMBBB 1 just to Main and Pico, I would have easily caught the Rapid 7 trip that left 6th and Broadway at 3:03. which would have arrived at Wilshire & Western at 4:17. Assuming I would not make the 4:20pm, but easily made the 4:30pm Purple Line train from Wilshire/Western, I would have been at LAUS by 4:43pm.

    In fact, that 3:23pm on Rapid 10 got me to L.A. well ahead of schedule, but the point I am trying to make is that some Rapid 10 trips are now scheduled for over 1h35m from 3rd Street Promenade to Union Station while the Rapid 7 is at most 1h10 minutes from S.M. Civic Center to Wilshire/Western, plus 13 minutes for the Purple Line, plus up to 15 minutes transfer time (1h38m total).

    I look forward to the addition of a third option when the Expo line opens!

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  4. “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.” Why not suggest to BBB that they accept the tokens and redeem them monthly with Metro to get the equivalent cash?

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  5. Thanks for the tip on the about the Rapid 10 Express. Took it yesterday and it was great. Pasadena to West LA in 1.5 hrs @ 4:30pm — almost as fast as driving and could relax and read a good book the whole time (Gold Line to Union Station; Big Blue Rapid 10 Express to Bundy/Pico)

    This is a great traffic beating solution until the Expo Line opens!

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  6. Took it last night westbound at Wilshire/Western, 4 bendy buses showed up and turned left going the opposite direction and our 812pm bus was 8 mins late!

    Bus is super clean, interesting use of seat from metro, windows do not rattle as much got to our destination for dinner at fairfax/pico in 15 minutes and on the way back wait was less than 5 mins and it only took 12 mins.

    Bus only cost 1$ each way. From restaurant window could see bendy bus passing every 20 mins or less.

    All in all not bad! Could actually take it to the beach but no weekend service…hint hint!

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  7. We have a ton of LA transit newbies on this forum who can’t recall the days of the RTD (and it predecessor agency) nor its merge with the nasty old LACTC to create the current MTA. For almost every suggestion, it has already been tried and there a sound reasons for MTA NOT re-implementing it, but our recent arrivals to LA don’t know the history. As one example:

    RTD (now MTA) buses did indeed feature dark tinted windows for all buses when that option was made available by manufactures starting back in the late 1970′s and beyond. It was later decided around the 1990′s that because of increasing “problems” on the buses, all future order of buses would have light tinted window that would allow law enforcement to see inside the buses. They had been a few “hostage” or “barricaded” on bus incidents before you arrived to LA and law enforcement liked that they could see in a revenue operating bus for any problems when they cruised by. That is why MTA does NOT have dark tinted window buses anymore.

    Also, the Blue Line (constructed by the old LACTC–absolutely NO input from RTD) was always light tinted windows for the very same reason.

    However, the Red/Purple line do have dark tinted windows, but easy to see inside when interior lights are on, and the rest of the LRT fleet does have dark tinted windows. But there are fewer problems on the trains then the buses. It is the bus lines that can really scare the wax out of you. I know from personal experience.

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