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A 'Little Disappointment' That Big Blue Bus Is Behind the Times

City Council hears update on when the bus system will have real-time signs and mobile apps.

The soonest Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus stops will be equipped with real-time technology is early 2014, Transit Director Ed King told the City Council Tuesday night.

King said he will ask the council in April or May to pick a contractor to install the first of 90 solar-powered electronic signs at 35 bus shelters. The signs will use GPS data to transmit accurate bus arrival times.

The roll-out was initially planned for December 2010, but was delayed because of software hiccups and budget issues.

King did not provide a target date for a real-time mobile app, saying “we did have some hiccups, we are working closely with [the Information Systems Department] on resolving that.”

That Santa Monica has fallen behind other cities, such as San Francisco, is a "little disappointing," City Councilman Kevin McKeown responded.

"I hear from people in Santa Monica [who say] 'we don’t mind taking the bus—we mind waiting for the bus,'" he said.

King and Jory Wolf, the city's chief information officer, last updated the council on Big Blue Bus technology upgrades in a December report. They said they were having trouble integrating the real-time technology software in the electronic signs with solar panels.

Additionally, several companies bid on the project in 2011, but they came in over the city's $6.5 million budget.

"If things go very quickly and we get a contractor on board, you would see those shelters and signs being installed around this time next year," King told the City Council on Tuesday. "That's kind of being optimistic."

Meanwhile, riders will have rely on a clunky "route wizard" on the Big Blue Bus website that provides real-time information within 60 minutes of a bus' arrival. If a rider is using the wizard outside of that time frame, it defaults to a printed schedule, which isn't always reliable.

The Big Blue Bus is working "very closely" with its vendor to it provides the information 3 to 4 hours out, King said.

Also scheduled to launch in the spring of next year are upgrades the buses' 14-year-old fare collection boxes. The boxes will be integrated with integration with other fare technology, including mobile ticketing and Metro's Transit Access Passes, called TAP.

Bob May 02, 2013 at 05:18 PM
BTW, maybe the BBB can save some money by forgetting the electronic signs. We pretty much all carry cell phones these days and can get the info the same way we get it from Metro, especially with the go-to phone number and stations number(s) programmed into phone memory.
Santos Isaac Chavez May 05, 2013 at 10:17 PM
Yeah, flexible like Metro is... the other day I had missed the 720, and it had pulled away from the curb about an inch. The traffic light was red, so it couldn't go anywhere. The driver saw two other people and me running to the bus, and he actually pulled the bus back to the curb and opened the door for us. Now that's flexible, i think :P
Santos Isaac Chavez May 05, 2013 at 10:19 PM
Yeah I use Nextrop for Metro bia text messages and call in for the LADOT DASH when needed... no need for electronic signs IMO
mimi May 06, 2013 at 12:50 AM
Good News! BBB has finally made their website user friendly. You can now get bus schedules and a complete list of stops for each route. I used it today and did not encounter any problems. Hooray!
Anne Hawthorne June 01, 2013 at 05:12 PM
Bob -- does the metro app work for real time arrivals for the BBB? I thought it didn't -- I know BBB isn't on Nextrip yet.

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