Token Program Gearing Up to Boost Number of Beeline Riders

Times Staff Writer

A program to distribute tokens for the Glendale Beeline shuttle bus will be launched this month to help increase the 2-month-old shuttle's ridership, which fell off sharply last month when the service began charging 25 cents a ride.

The shuttle was launched in December with much fanfare and the lure of free rides during the holiday season. But the number of passengers dropped by more than 50% last month, prompting the city to plan an aggressive promotion campaign to attract more riders.

The token program will be in the "forefront of the marketing blitz" for the fleet of 19-passenger minibuses serving the crowded downtown district, said Kerry Morford, the Public Works Division official in charge of the Beeline project.

Under the program, the city will sell bus tokens to merchants at a discount price for free distribution to their customers, he said.

Numbers of Riders Listed

Ridership figures for January show that 2,266 passengers climbed aboard the Beeline along its circuit, said Ron Davis, general manager for Pacific Busing Inc., which operates the shuttle. That compares to the 4,688 passengers who took free rides on the Beeline Dec. 10 to 31.

Daily ridership on the shuttle--which operates from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays--ranged in January from a high of 159 passengers to a low of 70, Davis said. The shuttle averaged slightly more than 100 riders per day in January, and the average daily ridership for December was about 275, he said.

The buses, which can carry up to 19 passengers, are expected to serve the greatest number of riders from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. On four recent trips during those hours, however, no more than five people were observed riding any shuttle during its three-mile route. Altogether on the four trips, only 12 people caught the two buses, which travel in opposite directions along the route.

'Things Slow Down'

But Davis said the Beeline has attracted more riders than the bus company had expected. "Frankly, I'm surprised that after the Christmas holidays we've done as well as we have," he said. "We don't have the same amount of shopping and normally things slow down a little bit in January anyway."

Morford said it is too early to speculate on how much the shuttle will be used in the coming months. He said the drop in use had more to do with a decline in shoppers after the holiday season than with the quarter charge. "People are shopped out. And if they are like me, their wallets are empty too," Morford said. "We expected ridership to drop off."

The token program is expected to start within two weeks, Morford said. The tokens will cost 10 cents each when 500 or more are bought, and 15 cents each when 250 are purchased. Shopping bags featuring the Beeline logo, a honeybee on wheels, will be distributed with the tokens.

T-Shirts, Buttons

Other promotions will include giving passengers a free ride for each they purchase, a Beeline T-shirt giveaway and continued distribution of Beeline buttons, Morford said. Also planned are free-ride periods for the disabled and senior citizens, and a Mother's Day gift of free rides to mothers and daughters who ride the shuttle together.

In addition, a bus transfer program with the Southern California Rapid Transit District is being considered, Morford said. Morford said that the cost of a bus transfer between the two systems has not been determined but that it will be kept to a minimum. Bus transfers currently cost RTD passengers 10 cents, in addition to the RTD fare.

The shuttle system was initiated with the goal of relieving traffic and parking problems in the busy downtown area. The city is subsidizing the Beeline at a cost of $170,000 for the first year, using funds from Proposition A, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by county voters in 1980 to help finance transportation projects. The system is being operated by Pacific Busing under a one-year contract with the city.

Frequent Service

The shuttle makes 37 stops along its route. A bus is supposed to come along every 10 minutes during the peak hours of operation and every 20 minutes during the rest of the day.

Diane Gage, a passenger on the Beeline on Monday afternoon, said she uses the shuttle to go shopping or to get a bite to eat on her lunch hour. Gage works as a medical assistant in an office building at 633 N. Central Ave.

"It's a great idea, but they should have had more publicity," Gage said. "A lot of our patients didn't know about it. There are a lot of people who could use it."

Some merchants along the bus route say more of their customers are starting to use the shuttle.

Rick Buche, an assistant manager for Shenanigans restaurant at 508 E. Broadway, said about 5% of his lunch business now arrives via the Beeline. "We have some regular customers in their 50s and 60s who don't drive who are using it," Buche said. "People are only now starting to be aware of it. It takes time for these things to catch on."

Senior Citizens Ride

Beeline bus driver Geraldo Lugo said many of the shuttle's steady patrons are senior citizens, one of the program's target groups. "I get a lot of them on Central going up to the doctor's office" Lugo said, referring to the cluster of medical office buildings on Central Avenue near the Ventura Freeway.

Lugo said he also often picks up groups of office workers, particularly from the Sears Savings Bank Plaza at 700 N. Central Ave., during the lunch hour. And in the past two weeks, he said, groups of high school and elementary school students have been boarding the bus after school at its stop near the Central Library on Harvard Street.

Lugo suggested that brochures showing the shuttle's route and providing information about its hours of service be printed in Spanish in addition to English.

"When I give this to someone who doesn't speak English, I'm not telling them anything," Lugo said of the brochures now available. "When they don't understand, I try to take the time to tell them and show them. But I can't do that with everyone. I don't have the time."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World