June 2011

5 Questions: Stephanie Negriff, Director, Big Blue Bus

by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Stephanie Negriff rose through the ranks of the Big Blue Bus (BBB) to become its director in August 2002.

Stephanie Negriff rose through the ranks of the Big Blue Bus (BBB) to become its director in August 2002.

Stephanie Negriff rose through the ranks of the Big Blue Bus (BBB) to become its director in August 2002. She recently announced her decision to retire from her position in October 2011 after 25 years of service with the City of Santa Monica. Negriff has spent 33 years in transit service with 10 years as the BBB director. Prior to joining the transit system, she worked with transit agencies in Austin, Texas; St. Louis and Oklahoma City.

Reflect on your time at Big Blue Bus and what the situation was when you began.

When I arrived in Santa Monica in 1986, I was happy to be part of a beautiful, exciting city and the Big Blue Bus always had an outstanding reputation. I had just completed working on formation of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Austin, Texas. We had gone through a referendum to create a dedicated sales tax in Austin, and I was really looking for my next new adventure. I was happy to find it in Santa Monica.

There was a county transportation commission that managed all of the regional funding, planning and policy issues and, then, there was the Southern California Rapid Transit District, the regional bus operator. I, primarily, was the liaison between the City of Santa Monica and the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. It was just a natural fit for me. I was very excited to be in this major metropolitan area discussing regional service policy and coordination and learning about the various dedicated funding that was available in Los Angeles and in the state.

I also had the extreme privilege of working with the then-director of transit services, Jack Hutchison, who is in the APTA Hall of Fame. He's certainly a person that continues to be a mentor for me today, and one from whom I learned a tremendous amount about legislative and funding issues and the importance of making sure all of the transit systems in this area were at the table to make sure we received our fair share of the funding that was available.

[Currently,]I'm looking at some of the funding detail going back to 1986 and 1987 because it's applicable to some of the issues that we're working on now. We started reserving monies to plan for light rail transit back in the mid-1980s, and now, as I am ready to depart the city, they're actually building Phase II of the Exposition Line that's going to come to Santa Monica.

So, it really does reflect on a full circle moment of putting monies together that helped develop an alignment that is compatible with the city's land use and transportation goals. That's something that you don't often get to experience [on a] long-term, major capital project.

Discuss some of your accomplishments.

I think going into the next phase as Jack Hutchison retired; we were in a very strong financial position. As his successor came on, John Catoe, the city wanted to go into a direction of expansion of our transit service. I was really pleased to be a part of that. I was involved in developing the transit service expansion program that identifies where we wanted to enhance our services.

I was also involved in developing the community outreach process. We knew as we moved ahead with trying to decide how we wanted our transit system to grow, we needed to get input and support from our riders and the residents of Santa Monica. The community outreach process that was established in 1997 continues to be the model that we use today before we go out and make any type of service changes; whether they're service enhancements or service restructuring.

That's when we updated our fleet look to the new buses that have become an iconic symbol of transit in the west side, which is the periwinkle blue with 'Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus' printed on the side. It was a pretty significant transformation of our service at that time.

That was also around the time we had conceived this idea of a new maintenance facility, which has since been built and was opened in 2009. We started the conversion of our fleet, the diesel-powered fleet that we had, to an alternate-fuel fleet. Today, we stand at 100 percent alternate-fuel fleet, because even the 40 percent of our fleet that is still powered by diesel engines, uses biofuels. The policy decisions that directed our fleet to alternative fuels led to the construction of natural gas facilities and infrastructure, including our state-of-the-art maintenance facility.

What changes have you seen during your time in the transit industry?

One of the things I've enjoyed about working in this industry is things are always changing, and there's been tremendous progress in our industry over the several decades that I've been involved in, including legislative support at the local, state and federal levels.

I think our residents, our voters, particularly in the state of California, have really demonstrated the importance of public transportation and improved transportation services, because every referendum that we've had for public transit funding has been supported by the voters of the state of California. Even in 2008 as the economy was in free fall, the residents of L.A. County approved Measure R, which was another half-cent sales tax to support public transit. That level of support inspires me, as a transit professional, to be responsible steward of the public's trust.

In Santa Monica, we've been working over the last several years to develop an improved community transit network, using smaller hybrid-electric vehicles that can actually go into neighborhoods without being loud and cumbersome. We understand that as the Expo Light Rail Line comes to Santa Monica, improved downtown circulation is going to be critical, and transit is going to play a critical role in that.

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