Momentum Building Against Metro Fare Hikes Scheduled for July 1

4_21_10_bru.jpgPhoto via the Bus Riders Union

Yesterday, the Bus Riders Union rallied in front of City Hall with representatives from CalPIRG, the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition, the National Resources Defense Council, the Clean Air Coalition and Transportation for America Campaign as part of a day of activism against fare increases and service cuts for transit agencies around the country.  Their event was mirrored in ten other cities around the country as activists nationwide spurred their legislators to provide relief to the nation’s struggling transit agencies.  As you would expect, the BRU and their allies focused their fire at Metro’s planned fare increases that are on deck for July and repeated their demand that the agency hold a new hearing on the hikes and the nearly 400,000 hours of service cuts.  Hearings on the changes were held years ago as part of a "fare restructuring" proposal that was supposed to raise the fares last year.  Those increases were delayed with the passage of Measure R.

The Times was at the rally:

"The monthly pass is going up by $13. That’s a meal on the table. The
typical transit rider only makes about $12,000 to $17,000 a year," said
Barbara Lott-Holland of Los Angeles, a member of the Bus Riders Union
who relies on the county transit system.

A few weeks ago, the BRU’s plan to cajole Metro to hold a new hearing, and use that event as a rallying point to hold off the hikes and cuts seemed a long shot.  However, with Mayor Villaraigosa and his bloc of votes backing a resolution calling for a special hearing in May or June for the cuts and hikes, there’s a good chance that at tomorrow’s Metro Board Meeting the Board is going to vote to give the BRU that hearing.  Whether it’s possible to excerpt enough pressure for Metro to change its planned hikes and cuts is another matter altogether.

As bad as things look for bus riders in Los Angeles, the view is even more bleak in some other areas of the country.  Metro is increasing some fares by 20% but straphangers in New Jersey could see increases as high as 64%.  Metro is planning to cut 388,000 hours of bus service, but Atlanta is planning to eliminate half of its bus lines and cut 25%-30% of the hours from the remaining fleet.

When the BRU makes its case for better bus funding, it paints Metro as an agency flush with capital cash because of Measure R.  However, there are restrictions placed on how Measure R and other transit-funding tax monies are spent, and the agency can’t shift money for The Subway to the Sea or I-710 Tunnel project to bus operations.  Changing those restrictions is one of the things the BRU pushed for at yesterday’s rally at Metro Headquarters, which was repeated throughout the country was all to push Congress to change the law so that agencies have the freedom to move some of those capital construction dollars around.

Even without dipping in to capital dollars, Metro’s operations will receive a near $100 million boost later this year from the state from the diesel tax.  Metro doesn’t yet have a plan for those monies or how it will effect the hike.  For the record, Metro has a $204 million operating deficit for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins July 1.  The hike will take away $24 million of it.  In short, the $100 million of state dollars is both a lot more than what it will raise with the increase and a lot less than what is needed to close the gap completely.

Whether its a good idea to dip into capital dollars to fund operations is a question for another day (or the comments section, whatever you want), and I have to admit I have trouble picturing the Board cutting one of the projects for which they fought so hard to keep the buses running at their current cost to customers.  But in the meantime, the BRU and their allies in the environmental movement are focused on rolling back this year’s fare increases.  The first stop on that route is at the Metro Board this Thursday.

  • “backing a resolution calling for a special hearing in May or June for the cuts and hikes”

    Actually the agenda item merely requests a special Board meeting in an educational effort to provide the public an opportunity to learn why the hike is occuring. A platform for the BRU’s usual antics but far short of the hearing they demanded. Despite all the bombast I am pretty sure the hike will occur on July 1. I outlines my reasoning in a previous posting:

    http://la.streetsblog.org/2010/03/26/time-running-out-for-bru-to-get-their-fare-hike-hearing/

  • LAofAnaheim

    Is that the whole BRU? Looks like a weak protest.

  • S.S. Sam Taylor

    This is a BRU “hail mary” pass. Damien has it wrong. There is a difference between a “hearing” and a “special meeting”. A huge difference. Metro had a “fare hearing” in 2007. The BRU brought out maybe 1,800 people to tell why they couldn’t pay 1 cent more. The Metro Board then raised the fares in two steps. The second step that was due in 2009 was delayed one year with the passage of Measure R for regular fares. The senior / student fares were put on hold for 5 years.

    It may look nice that the Mayor and Mark are having a “special meeting”, but 30 in 10 and Crenshaw and the other projects don’t happen, if Metro can’t pay to operate them.

    Damien: Misplaced optimism. Best to check with So.Ca.Ta or some knowledgeable group to find out the back story.

  • I’ll agree I should have said “special meeting” instead of “hearing,” but I have it on good authority that the sponsoring Board members intend the special meeting will be “similar in format” to a hearing. I thought that it would actually confuse the issue more to go into the differences, then have people show up and have it resemble what happened in 2007.

    We’ll see what the board says tomorrow. I’m also told it’s no slam dunk this thing is going to pass anyways.

    Incidentally, I’m not necessarily opposed to fare hikes as long as its part of a larger plan to improve transit access and provide alternatives to teh car. Metro’s entire fare structure doesn’t make sense and across the board hikes (accept for seniors and students) don’t make sense to me either. But, I’ve been trying to cover transportation news instead of make it, so I haven’t pushed that point of view anywhere.

  • I agree the number of folks protesting looks anemic. This is going to ALWAYS be the case when we have meetings in the middle of the day. The average person who rides Metro bus and rail is working when the meetings happen, and the average person doesn’t have the kind of job with flextime, and if they aren’t at work, they aren’t getting paid. And people like me, with jobs where I CAN leave if I have to, aren’t leaving because we just have too much to do during work hours.

    This is why I think most PR events like this outside city hall are a counterproductive waste of time. Whenever City Hall is just being used as a backdrop anyway, have the meeting in the evening, so working people can get to the meeting.

  • I am working up a short bullet point list that SO.CA.TA will present at the special Board meeting. The BRU can rant against the fare increase if they want, but I will not waste this rare chance to press whichever Board members attend this session regarding key issues that call for leadership from them.

    http://thesource.metro.net/2010/04/22/special-meeting-to-be-held-to-discuss-fare-increase/

  • S.S. Sam Taylor

    Yep, Damien: That momentum went crashing smack dab into a brick wall. The BRU members were howling in shear for a good 15 minutes in the Boardroom after they finally figured out that they had been tricked by Mayor Villaraigosa and Mark Ridley-Thomas. They thought that the Mayor and the Supe would share the BRU fantasy that fares must always be dropped, but it is against the laws of nature and capitalism to make poor people pay and then pay more. The Metro guards just watched as they wept and cried. Then the BRU went downstairs to sing and chant for another 30 minutes. It was like a wolf mom that lost her cub. It was terrible. Metro put out a release about 60 minutes later announcing that there will be a hearing on fares (not a fare hearing) where the BRU could come and voice their opinions.

    Here is the good news. BRU owner Eric Mann can go to his Westside funders and based upon the failure of his organizers and followers, ask for another million dollars or so, so Eric can keep up his $300,000 yearly salary. His funders don’t throw money at him for success. Sounds odd, but that is the way of the BRU mentality. I am sure that you are aware that his biggest funders are fronts for firms like Exxon-Mobil, as any progress on guideways pull cars off the road.

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