Last night, the Santa Monica City Council unanimously passed a motion (Agenda, Item 5I) to approve a five-year contract to Good Guard Security, a private security firm to place officers on the Big Blue Bus in response to small increases in assaults against drivers and disturbances which require the bus’ to pull over and interrupt their routes. The contract will see 2 pairs of security officers riding and patrolling the buses during weekday operations and another pair on weekends and holidays.
Good Guard is currently the security firm that patrols city-owned parking structures. Staff noted that the number of threats or assaults against drivers rose from 2022 to 2023 (22 to 27) and a similar rise in reported “disturbances” (75 to 83) where buses were pulled over until a security concern could be managed.
“Until our residents feel safe on public transportation, it’s not o.k,” said Councilmember Christine Parra, who has been a consistent voice for more security in Downtown Santa Monica, the Santa Monica Pier and Promenade and in neighborhoods.
The majority of incidents on Santa Monica’s buses have occurred in the early morning, so shifts will begin at 6 a.m. and have been targeted at routes and bus stops where there have been more incidents.
As the Big Blue Bus operates in several cities, not just Santa Monica, security guards will board buses in Santa Monica and will stay on the bus throughout its route. It is unclear what, if any, authority security would have outside of the bus in other cities. Regardless of what city they are in, the guards would have jurisdiction within the buses.
Mayor Phil Brock questioned whether or not the new security would be effective. In response to questions from Brock, staff noted that there are 195 buses in the fleet and up to 128 in operation during peak hours.
“Out of 128 buses on peak hour during a Wednesday, only two buses will get security and the other 126 buses are in the same boat that we’re in now,” Brock stated.
However, despite the motion being about providing more security, both Santa Monica DOT director Anuj Gupta and Councilmember Gleam Davis, who regularly rides the Big Blue Bus on Route 3, pushed back on the idea that the Big Blue Bus is unsafe.
“I don’t feel unsafe on ‘the 3’,” said Davis. “I ride that bus very often, and I don’t feel unsafe.” Later Gupta added that the Big Blue Bus is an “exceptionally safe system.”
As for how they are planning to deploy transit safety operators, Gupta stated that they are using data provided by operators and passengers on how to most effectively deploy along various routes and times. There was not any consideration given to trying to have security be omnipresent on the Big Blue Bus.
“Frankly, it would bust our budget to have security on every bus at all times,” Gupta testified.
The new security will also allow the city to be in compliance with federal regulations put in place as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill which mandates that if the number of incidents against drivers are increasing, that transit operators have to provide greater security. The legislation did not provide funding for these officers.