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Opposition and Confrontation at Metro Fare Increase Hearing

Citing "disruptive behavior" for prolonged public comment, uniformed officers removed two people from Metro's fare increase hearing.  photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA

Citing “disruptive behavior,” uniformed officers removed two people from last Saturday’s Metro fare increase hearing. photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA

On Saturday, Metro held a public hearing on proposed changes to its fare policy. Metro is proposing to raise its $1.50 base transit fare to $1.75 starting September 2014. From there, it would be raised again to $2.00 in 2017, and to $2.25 in 2020. This would include a 90-minute free transfer, but only when the fare is paid using a TAP card.

Metro’s passes would go up similarly. Day passes, currently $5, would cost $7/$8/$9. , Weekly passes, currently $20, would cost $25/$30/$32. Monthly passes, currently $75, would cost $100, then, combined with EZ pass, $120/$135. The Metro proposal includes two options: a straight-up increase, or an increase that splits the increase into two categories: a more expensive peak-commuter-hour fare and a cheaper off-peak fare. More fare increase proposal details at the Metro website.

As one might expect, the hearing was a heated one.

Security was higher than usual. In addition to uniformed armed officers and police dogs, attendees had to pass through a metal detector and allow officers to search bags. The board room was full by the time the 9:30 a.m. meeting started, with late arrivals shunted to the Metro cafeteria to watch proceedings on screens. 

For the most part, public commenters, from youth to seniors, urged Metro not to raise fares, primarily for personal economic reasons. One student’s summed it up the feelings of many commenters: “I count on the buses, please don’t gouge us.”

Many groups expressed opposition, but the most prominent among them was the Bus Riders Union. BRU head Eric Mann called on Metro directors to reject the proposed increase, and to enact an immediate 10 percent reduction in fares. Mann also called for an independent audit of Metro finances to determine where past bond measure funding may have been inappropriately redirected to rail construction.

A few individuals and organizations, primarily those interested in seeing expanding Metro rail service, testified in favor of reasonable fare increases, but requested some modifications to the staff’s proposal. These modifications included increasing the transfer window to two hours, making TAP cards more useful, and increasing other Metro revenue from advertising, parking, etc to offset the fare increase.

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Eastside Events Roundup: Action Against Metro Tomorrow, 6th Street Viaduct Proposals Unveiling, Run For Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council

Community organizations including the Bus Riders Union, East Los Angeles Community Corporation, and Union de Vecinos will march tomorrow from downtown to Boyle Heights to protest Metro's control of certain properties and service cuts. Image from ELACC Facebook page.

Here’s a roundup of some actions, meetings and dates that are going on for the next two weeks that involve the neighborhood council, Metro, and the unveiling of the 6th Street viaduct design proposals.

Take a look:

Take Back LA – March Against Metro

City and neighborhood groups will march from Downtown  L.A. to Boyle Heights tomorrow to protest Metro’s control of property in low-income areas and to undo cuts to bus services. Organizers expect more than 400 people to march from Father Serra Park, near Placita Olvera, to Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, according to a press release.

East Los Angeles Community Corporation, one of the groups involved with the march, protested against developments on Metro owned land, including lots near the southeast corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue and Soto Street. ELACC argues that the current proposal at Cesar Chavez and Soto would hurt local businesses and ignores the community’s need for  better access to fresh foods.

6th Street Viaduct Proposals Unveiled

The three design competition finalists for the 6th Street viaduct replacement project will present their proposals in Boyle Heights at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Puente Learning Center.  The designs from Parson Brinckerhoff, HNTB and AECOM will be shown tonight and at three other meetings for the next two weeks.

The bridge cannot be preserved because of an untreatable alkali-silica reaction that is causing the concrete to disintegrate. The project is budgeted at $401 million, and is scheduled to be completed by 2018.

Models of the designs will be displayed from September 20th to October 5th in the lobby of the Public Works building at 1149 S. Broadway.

Here’s a schedule of the meetings: Read more…


The BRU Roars: Mr. President, Enforce, Restore, Expand Our Civil Rights

Streetsblog estimates 250 people were at the rally at any given point. The BRU put the total number between 350-400 as people came and went from the rally as it went on.

We’re the BRU. This is our fight
Mass transportation is a human right
We want 50 cent fares and $20 passes
‘cause mass transportation belongs to the masses
BRU Chant, heard yesterday.

Hoping to leverage the importance of minority and lower income voters to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, the Bus Riders Union (BRU) launched “a national campaign calling on President Obama to stand for the civil rights of Black and Latino transit riders in Los Angeles,” in front of City Hall’s west entrance yesterday afternoon.

The BRU’s campaign attracted the support of twenty allied organizations including the East Los Angeles Community Council, Koreatown Immigrants Workers Alliance, and SEIU United Service Workers West; each of whom had representatives sprinkled in the sea of yellow-t-shirt clad supporters wearing their own organizations’ colors.  A full list of supporting organizations is at the end of this story, after the jump.

Disappointed that a  Federal Transit Administration Civil Rights Title VI review didn’t roll back recent service cuts, the campaign is aiming over the FTA’s head. The campaign appeals directly to Obama to, in their words, order the agency to restore one million hours of service. In the wake of a recent announcement that Metro is extending hours on Metro rail and Bus Rapid Transit late into the night, the BRU also wants to know why bus riders aren’t seeing a return of bus service eliminated over the last four years.

Barbara Lott-Holland, co-chair of the BRU said, “This is a major civil rights test case for President Obama. With clear evidence that the nation’s second largest mass transit agency violated federal civil rights law, the case offers President Obama an important opportunity to bring justice to 500,000 Black, Latino, and Asian-Pacific Islander bus riders who have been slammed by service cuts and fare increases.”

Even if the President wanted to over-rule the FTA’s decision on Metro’s service policies, it’s doubtful he has the legal right to do so.  Streetsblog spoke with a legal expert familiar with the FTA’s recent review of Metro’s civil rights policies, who asked not to be identified.  This lawyer said that direct intervention by the President overruling a report by the FTA would create legal problems for the President if Metro opposed his decision.  If Metro accepted the President’s oversight, it would create a “terrible” legal precedent.  After all, would the BRU want Mitt Romney making decisions on what kind of transit service Metro should provide?”

Despite the t-shirts and banners with the president’s picture, the real target of yesterday’s rally could be Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  Obama chose Villaraigosa to Chair of the Democratic National Convention in September. Attacking Villaraigosa’s progressive bona-fides, especially on his signature issue, could be an attempt to embarrass the mayor into taking a proactive role in restoring the slashed service hours.

“Sadly, Mayor Villaraigosa, as Chair of the L.A. Metro Board, has failed to take a clear stand for civil rights and for the restoration of the deep service cuts that are so devastating for the urban poor,” said Sunyoung Yang, lead organizer with the Bus Riders Union. “Will he allow black and latino communities to be pushed to the brink of economic survival and displaced from their own neighborhoods in order to pursue a transportation agenda that gentrifies the city and fattens the pockets of corporate developers and the construction lobby? Or will the Mayor take a stand for civil rights and for the restoration of one million hours of bus service?”

The mayor’s office declined to comment on the story, but recent comments made in Streetblog’s exclusive interview with Villaraigosa paint a picture of a mayor concerned about the cost and quality of local bus service.  When asked directly about his future plans, Villaraigosa commented, “My goal is to convince the Congress we need to spend more money on operations. That’s going to take more time.”

Whether the BRU can make enough noise to get the President’s attention has yet to be proven.  But regardless of one’s view of the BRU or this campaign, yesterday’s rally marked the first attempt by a group outside of Washington, D.C. to aggresively insert the plight of transit riders into the 2012 presidential debate.  BRU leaders listed allies in other cities: Atlanta, Chicago, New York and others. They’re going to need all the help they can get to be heard through the white noise of a presidential campaign.

Endorsers of the “Mr. President, Enforce, Restore, Expand Our Civil Rights” Campaign to date:

ACUSLA – Association of Communities United of South Los Angeles

CADRE – Community Asset Development Re-Defining Education

CHIRLA – Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles

CLEAN Carwash Campaign,

Coalition for Educational Justice

Comité Pro-Democracia de Mexico

Communities for a Better Environment

D.R.E.A.M. Team Los Angeles

Committee of Ex-Bracero Workers

East Los Angeles Community Corporation

Inner City Struggle

Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance

Los Angeles Community Action Network

Restaurant Opportunities Center-Los Angeles

SEIU United Service Workers West

Union de Vecinos

Youth Justice Coalition



Measuring the Odds for Measure R+

Image from Metro Board reports via The Source.

The issue of whether or not Measure R+, our temporary name for a proposed ballot initiative to extend the 2008 transportation sales tax, will be on the fall ballot will be much clearer in a couple of days.  The Metro Board of Directors will vote on whether or not to place the initative on the fall ballot this Thursday.  The initiative still needs the approval of the State Senate and the Governor’s office, but if the measure passes muster on Thursday, it will most likely go before the voters.

Whether the voters will pass it is another story.  As in 2008, extending the sales tax would require a two-thirds vote of those voting.  The 2008 ballot measure passed with 67.2%.

In other words, it barely passed.

While the coalition that worked to pass Measure R in 2008 is coming back together under the stewardship of Move L.A., the opposition to the transit tax extension already appears stronger than last time.  The campaign for Measure R+ could have a tougher road to travel.  The plan calls for no new projects, just a “speeded up” project schedule.  In other words, if it matters to you whether the airport connector is completed in 2023 instead of 2028, then you’ll likely support the project.  If you wanted a Leimert Park Station for the Crenshaw Line, there’s nothing in this proposal for you.

Leading the opposition is Supervisor, and soon-to-be Metro Board Chair, Mike Antonovich.  The Supervisor famously compared the plan to “gang rape” of his constituents despite his Supervisor District receiving the lion’s share of the highway funding portion of the sales tax.  Antonovich voted against placing the initiative on the ballot in Committee.

Noting that rail transit generally requires a higher subsidy than bus transit, thus causing an overall increase in transit fares, the Bus Riders Union led the charge against Measure R four years ago. The civil rights group seems poised to repeat that role this time around.

“The original Measure R has offered nothing good to transit-dependent Black and Latino bus riders, who have seen close to one million hours of bus service cut and a 20% fare increase since it took effect in 2009,” explains Barbara Lott Holland, Chair of Bus Riders Union.  “Extending Measure R indefinitely will only accelerate the destruction of the bus system and the civil rights crisis that LA Metro now finds itself in, and will plummet the agency into a debt that the poor will be asked for pay through more fare increases and even deeper cuts to their service for decades into the future.”

The Los Angeles Times puts voice to a fiscal argument that extending a sales tax indefinitely out into the future doesn’t make a lot of fiscal sense long-term.  What if the transit needs of the county change in the next fifty years, and voters are paying a tax for a completed transit system with no revenue going towards future expansion?  Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa argues that these future voters will have the benefit of a completed transit system, but that argument could be a harder sell than the argument for any transit expansion made four years ago.

Another group that opposed the 2008 tax was a loose coalition of legislators and municipal governments in the San Gabriel Valley.  These lawmakers gave perhaps the least articulate opposition demanding funds for a local project that was funded by Measure R at the same time they opposed the overall Measure.  Getting more funds for the Alameda Corridor continues to be their top priority, and there is little opportunity to close the $260 million funding gap in Measure R+. Read more…


BRU to Metro: Let Public in on Civil Rights Remedies

Yesterday, the Metro Board of Directors discussed the recently released FTA Report detailing Title VI Civil Rights violations at Metro.  The Source called the discussion “by far the liveliest part of the meeting,” but it also showed ongoing confusion about what the report means and what is the best way to meet the complaints.

Photo of yesterday's rally outside Metro Headquarters via the Bus Riders Union

Mayor Villaraigosa, whose plane from Asia had landed just over eight hours before the meeting began, spoke for the entire Board that they were “very concerned” about the report’s findings.  While other members expressed some particular issues with items raised in the report, the strongest complaints came from other non-white members of the Board.  City Councilman Jose Huizar complained about the lack of translated materials outside of English and Spanish and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was perhaps most blunt when he called the entire affair “rather embarrassing” in the Los Angeles Times.

Despite their concerns with Metro actions that led them to yesterday’s discussion, the Metro Board did back the basic plan to get the agency back on track.  While Metro staff has told anyone willing to listen that these are minor procedural complaints that will be addressed by March or April or June (depending who is speaking for Metro) of next year, critics with the Bus Riders Union and other civil rights groups protested Metro Headquarters throughout the afternoon.  Their message was simple, the FTA report is a big deal, and the BRU doesn’t trust Metro to do handle the complaints fairly without an empowered citizen oversight committee.

The Bus Riders Union has long argued that Metro should restore the over 1 million hours of service cuts from the past three years and restore fares to their 2007 levels.  They believe that the FTA’s report, coupled with strong civilian oversight of Metro’s response is the key to start making these positions a reality. Read more…


FTA: Metro Deficient in Five of 12 Civil Rights Categories

Yesterday, the Federal Transit Administration publicly released its Title VI Civil Rights Review of Metro that was completed earlier this year.  The FTA outlines a series of deficiencies in almost half of its twelve civil rights categories.  Metro insists these are minor issues that can be easily fixed while critics of the agency call the report “a crushing indictment of the MTA.”  The document is available as a word document off the FTA’s website and a pdf off Streetsblog’s Sribd Page.

The FTA identified deficiencies in five of the 12 requirements of the Title VI Circular applicable to urban transit agencies that receive federal funds.  The five deficient areas are:

  • Notice to the Public of Rights
  • Language Access to LEP Persons
  • System-wide Service Standards and Policies
  • Evaluations of  Service and Fare Changes
  • Monitoring Transit Service

Despite the strong critique of Metro policies, the FTA report stops short of requiring that Metro roll back any of its recent fare increases or service cuts that led to the Bus Riders Union to call for a Civil Rights Review in the first place.  BRU spokespeople noted that the report doesn’t rule out making such a determination in the future, but for now the agency has time to answer the FTA’s complaints, create and implement a Civil Rights Corrective Action Plan, and fill in some gaps in its reporting.

For example, when a Metro policy is shown, by its own analysis, to have a “disparate impact” on a minority or disadvantaged community  Metro is required to prove that the policy is absolutely necessary and there is no other less discriminatory alternative available.  In the case of its 2009 and 2011 service cuts, the agency did show a “disparate impact” in over three fifths of its service changes, but didn’t show that cuts were a “business necessity” in its own documents explaining the cuts and there were no other “less discriminatory alternatives.”

In plain English, Metro didn’t sufficiently prove that its service changes, cuts and improvements, were a business necessity after determining that they had a systematic negative impact on minority and disadvantaged communities.

In addition to studying the impact of its fare policies, including the reduction in cost for the Metro Day Pass that went on the books this summer, Metro is required to do a study of the cumulative impact of the changes to bus service that have occurred since 2009.  But it’s not like Metro is just ticking off a series of studies that it has to do, pending the findings of these studies, the FTA could require changes, including a requirement to roll back past policies, service changes and fare changes once Metro concludes its reporting.

Some of the other findings in the report were just strange.  For example, by its own standard, Metro has to examine why there is a significant difference, 3% or more, in survey answers from different demographics when completing its bi-annual survey of riders.  However, when their rider surveys showed that difference, there was never any examination of why, just a blanket statement that: Read more…

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With Full FTA Civil Rights Report Due This Week, Metro Plays Chess With Bus Service Changes

On Friday, Metro abruptly announced that it would be suspending changes and cuts to its bus service originally planned to go into effect yesterday until further notice.  The about-face on the most recent round of proposed cuts and other changes happened so quickly that just the day before Metro announced the changes via press release and it didn’t have time to forewarn members of its local Service Councils that approved the service tweaks of the change in plans.

The Bus Riders Union hasn't always given high marks to Metro. What marks with the FTA give?

Anyone wondering why the change of plans happened so suddenly had to wait only for a couple of hours.  Late Friday afternoon, The Source wrote that the Federal Transit Administration will announce this week that, “that Metro did not fully follow federal regulations and guidance when the agency made service and fare changes. The review dates back to 2009.”  The FTA has been reviewing Metro’s policies and decision making processes as the agency has scaled back its bus fleet in the past couple of years.

Not surprisingly, the Bus Riders Union was thrilled with the dual announcements.

“Metro’s decision to suspend another round of service cuts is clearly an indication this agency is treading carefully and is feeling the heat of the FTA civil rights review, which has been in progress since the summer,” writes Sunyoung Yang of the Bus Riders Union in a press statement.  “We hope that it’s the start of a new direction for this agency, with a renewed commitment to civil rights and first class service for its low income majority Black, Latino, and Asian riders. We eagerly await the findings of the FTA report and a robust plan on how Metro will clean up its civil rights act.”

But it appears that the BRU’s hopes for major policy changes at Metro will be dashed.  The Source article calmly states, “It is important to note that the compliance review does not call for any service changes or fare changes to be rescinded,” and a statement from Metro spokesman Marc Littman ends with a promise that the proposed changes will occur soon.

“The bus service changes suspended for Sunday were mostly minor but there were some significant improvements planned that the community sought.  Consider Line 30,” writes Littman.  “The suspended service changes should go into effect within a few weeks once we do analysis on a couple of lines.”  Part of the service changes included a large expansion of service on bus line 30 serving West Hollywood and the Pico/Rimpau area along San Vicente Boulevard. Read more…


Headway Change? Metro Proposes Increasing Maximum Time Between Some Buses

Westbound on the 720. Photo:Faria!/Flickr

Every year, the Metro Board combines its December and November meetings into one giant meeting in mid-December.  One item, passed by the Board’s Safety and Operations Committee in November is already raising concern from bus advocates and riders who are worried that a change in bus’ headway times could lead to more crowded conditions.

The innocuously titled Agenda Item 45: Update Metro Service Standards and Policies proposes to increase the maximum headway time for rapid bus service to 20 minutes for peak service and 30 minutes for off peak service.  This doesn’t mean that there will suddenly be a thirty minute wait for all rapid buses in the middle of the day, but it gives Metro the flexibility to altar time tables for bus service on rapids and other lines that it doesn’t have at the moment.

“The new standards are unequal and biased, allowing buses to have slow 60 min headways versus 10-12 minute headway cap for rail service.  If these kinds of service standards get applied more buses can be slowed down and trip thinned by the MTA.  Bus riders will have to bear additional wait times and this will kill ridership on the buses,” explains Sunyoung Yang, an organizer with the Bus Riders Union.  “If the same headway standards applied on any of the rail service even the Red Line, no one would ride it—imagine waiting 30 min to an hour for the next train to go to Union Station.”

For its part, Metro staff says that Agenda Item 45 is as innocuous as its title.

“We’ve been using 20 minute frequency for evaluating Rapids over the past few shakeups, so the standards are consistent with our informal guidelines,” writes Dave Sotero from Metro’s public relations division.  “The original planning guidelines for Rapids were 10 minute peak/20 minute base.  We were required to operate Rapids at this level for a period of one year from each line’s implementation.  Read more…


Looking to Nationalize the Movement, BRU Hosts Town Hall on Recent Cuts

Mugging for the Streetsblog camera is irresistible. BRU Organizers Sunyoung Yang and Francesca Porchas smile at the VA Hospital Rally for the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes.

Tomorrow morning, the Bus Riders Union and a large coalition of sponsoring organizations will host a “Transit Justice Town Hall on MTA Cuts to Bus Service Lifelines.”  The event begins at 9:30 A.M. at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, 3300 Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown.  The “Town Hall” will feature both a chance for community members to testify about the impact that recent bus service cuts and fare hikes have had on their lives.  You can read the BRU’s press release, here.

Combined with the surprising news that bus benches are disappearing around the city, BRU Organizer Esperanza Martinez claims, “From bus benches to bus lines, people are being stranded at the bus stop.  This is their chance to tell their story.”

In addition to the public testimony portion of the event, there will be a panel discussion featuring BRU leadership, public health experts and Dr. Robert Bullard, hailed by Newsweek as one of the top 13 environmental activists in the country and the “Father of Environmental Justice.”  A full list of panelists and short bios can be found at the end of the article.

Coming on the heels of the Federal Transit Administration’s visit to Los Angeles to conduct a civil rights audit of Metro; the Town Hall’s goal is not only to shine a light on the impact of Metro’s bus policy in recent years, but to place the local struggle of bus riders in a national context.

Yesterday, Transportation Nation reported that 80% of transit agencies across the country are experiencing hardships as a result of the national budget crisis.  At the same time, 700,000 Americans live in families without cars or access to transit. Read more…


Today’s BRU Presser: All Hands on Deck for Westside Bus Only Lanes

Not just the BRU...

Flanked by allies, transit advocates showed a united front in the battle to bring the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes to West Los Angeles in front of the Veteran’s Administration hospital on Wilshire Boulevard earlier today.

“We’ve been fighting for a Wilshire Bus Only Lane for the last six years,” explains Sunyoung Yang, the lead organizer for the Bus Riders Union.  “We want the full project that we’ve been promised.  This promise was already made to the federal government when the MTA applied to the federal government.”

To see a YouTube video of Dunn's comments, click here.

Last year, the Bus Riders Union spoke at a press conference organized by rail expansion backers calling for more federal transit funding.  That was surprising, given the BRU’s opposition to the Measure R transit tax in 2008.  Today, Southern California Transit Advocates Board Member Joseph Dunn closed the press conference.  That is almost shocking, considering the long-standing grudge held between the two transit groups.  The “kumbaya” moment between the two groups underscores a message made loud and clear: transit experts are united on how far the Wilshire BOL lanes should go: as far as they possibly can.

“Have a backbone about it!” urged Dunn, “Don’t let the Brentwood people and Beverly Hills people throw you around!”

Both the Metro Board of Directors and the Los Angeles City Council are expected to vote on a route for the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes project, which would convert the far right lane on both sides of Wilshire to “bus only” at rush hour.  The press conference called on Council and Board Members to support the originally proposed 8.7 mile route rejected by the Metro Board of Directors last winter which would connect Downtown L.A. to Santa Monica, excluding Beverly Hills.

Metro staff is now proposing a 7.7 mile route which would also exclude the area just west of the 90210, leaving two bus only portions, one from Downtown L.A. to La Cienega Boulevard for 5.4 miles and another 2.3 miles in Brentwood.  Westside Councilman Bill Rosendahl is seeking to stop the project at the 5.4 mile mark and hold off on the Brentwood section until other Westside communities including Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, are on board.

Seeking to preserve their funding, and reputation, Metro staff now claim they can use the entirety of the funding regardless of the project route selected.  Money from a truncated project could provide more transponder upgrades and curb lane street repairs between the Downtown and La Cienega, leaving Westsiders in the odd position of arguing for less funds for street repair that come with the BOL project.

For Rosendahl, the issue isn’t just about mobility from the Downtown going west, but about the gridlock from Santa Monica to the 405 entrance that isn’t far from the V.A. Read more…