Angelinos fight transit rate hike

LOS ANGELES — Hundreds of workers, students, handicapped and elderly people filled the downtown Metropolitan Transit Authority building May 24 to protest proposed transit fare hikes, following MTA Chief Executive Roger Snoble’s announcement of restructuring proposals that would raise basic bus and rail fares from $1.25 to $2.00 for a one-way trip.

The MTA’s boardroom was filled to capacity before the hearing began. The overflow crowd was jettisoned to adjacent conference rooms where they watched the proceedings on television. Still more people filled the lobby of the building and sat on the floor. Finally, the fire marshal was forced to close the building because so many people continued to arrive.

Once the meeting began, speaker after speaker told the MTA Board of Directors to find another way to pay down its $4.7 billion debt, due largely to the development and expansion of rail lines serving suburban communities.

Eighty-two percent of MTA riders use the buses. So why is the transit authority raising fares for bus riders? The answer is complicated and the issue needs further study.

An even more outlandish proposal was to increase day passes from $3 to $8 and monthly passes from $52 to $120 over the next 19 months.

Bobbie Jean Anderson, representing 48th District Assemblyman Mike Davis, read Davis’ letter to the board opposing the fare increase. Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, who also opposes the increase, pointed out in his letter that low-wage workers are users of the transit system and could not afford the fare hike. He asked the board to consider alternatives. Manuel Criollo of the Bus Riders Union complained to the board about its proposal to cut service by $7 million at the same time it is raising fares.

“The current proposals will cause irreparable harm,” Criollo said, adding that the proposal violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

David Azabe, also with the Bus Riders Union, said the MTA proposals are pricing customers out of being able to use the bus. He said service cuts already total 600 hours, and called for federal jurisdiction over MTA policies. Other speakers testified to their belief the Los Angeles County Transportation system is being dismantled, with serious environmental consequences for a county that already has the nation’s poorest air quality.

The Bus Riders Union’s three-point plan for the MTA called for a “no” vote on the fare increase, followed by an environmental impact study on the effect of reduced ridership from the increased fares. They also called for a moratorium on rail construction.

Despite overwhelming opposition by the community, political and religious leaders and leaders of environmental organizations, the MTA voted 9-4 to support a fare increase proposal brokered by Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa could not muster the necessary votes for his more moderate proposal. “When you look at so many [people] who make less than the poverty level, clearly they are not going to be able to afford it,” the mayor said afterwards.

Molina’s proposal called for one-way fares to jump from $1.25 to $1.50, day passes to jump from $3 to $6 and monthly passes to jump from $52 to $75 by 2009, with additional increases to follow as construction costs continue to climb.

The board has a policy in place to support additional rail lines, which are very expensive. The fares are good on buses or rails.

The Bus Riders Union and other interested organizations are expected to oppose the increase in court. What is sadly missing from the debate is the fact that badly needed federal dollars are being wasted in Iraq. The MTA mass transit system cannot survive without federal assistance.