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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.

mimi February 14, 2013 at 06:45 PM
BBB appears to need intelligent leadership.
Stephanie Speights February 14, 2013 at 10:05 PM
Yes please. The Metro one is great. Come on BBB...hurry it up all ready!
Brenda Barnes March 18, 2013 at 01:34 AM
I was downtown (LA) about 10 pm one night and didn't want to wait forever, so I called the number on the sign to see when the next bus would be there. First I dialed 511, which was supposed to be a "Next Bus" app. Got VM and never a real person, no matter how many times I put in a choice that was supposed to be that. Then I dialed another number there and got emergency, where the real person who answered told me to call 511. I don't know how up-to-date SF is--haven't been on a bus there in years--but Metro sure is not. We need to get the same contractor as some city with a bus system that actually works. City Council members drive, and have City placards allowing parking anywhere, except Pam O'Connor, who claims all sorts of things about her transportation. When they all give up their perks and live like the rest of us, I'll believe they are qualified to make decisions. Until then, "a little disappointed" does not begin to describe what I would have done to staff members who said something would be done in 2010 and still don't have it done. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. We have one City employee for every 35 residents, more than twice comparable cities. We also have such lavish retirement benefits that a new City manager and police chief take those every five years, as soon as they are eligible. In the meantime, City Councilmembers let them get away with doing nothing as indicated by this story. All of this is why the City is a mess.
Brenda Barnes March 18, 2013 at 01:36 AM
Nothing except suggesting more development, that is, which the Developers' Lapdog City Council is happy to approve, since they are in the developers' revolving door, too.
Anne Hawthorne March 31, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Early 2014 is ridiculous! If it is true that the buses are already equipped with GPS locaters, why should SM create a new app when it could just use Nextrip, Nextrip works great on MTA routes. The BBB route wizard is so slow that the departure time passes while you are waiting for it to load. And often, the "next bus" it finds is also in the past. Getting a decent real-time mobile app is just one way Santa Monica needs to prioritize its bus service. No wonder more people don't ride the bus.
Bernice Glenn May 02, 2013 at 06:33 AM
The BBB wizard reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. It never gets locations right even when you key in the correct locations. Also, NO STOP LOCATIONS like they used to have on the old and better web site. Time tables do not provide stop locations, and the web site map doesn't either. Whomever is in charge of this contract doesn't ride the BBB, or else they would know that a glitzy web site needs to provide customers with information they really need ,,,, like a real comment and letters page as well as the dearly needed stop locations.
Bob May 02, 2013 at 05:09 PM
Brenda...It is probably hard to read the sign at night, but if you dial 41411 on your cell phone, and then text "metro #", where # is the station stop number posted on the signage at the bus stop, you will get back an arrival time of the next 1-2 buses at that stop.
Bob May 02, 2013 at 05:14 PM
MY biggest disappointment with the BBB is that the bus can be stuck in traffic, right next to the curb, and they won't open the door to let you on. At other times, they pull away from the stop by about a foot and then refuse to open the door when you finally make it across the street. They need to be reminded that they are running a service, and most of us do have a choice between the bus and our car. If the City wants us to use the bus, the BBB needs to be a bit more flexible.
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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