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.