Time Running Out for BRU to Get Their Fare Hike Hearing, Updated

3_26_20_bru.jpgWhy wouldn’t Villaraigosa want a hearing on fare increases? Photo: Strategy Center/Flickr

(editor’s note: Everyone knows that a guest editorial, such as this one, does not represent an Official View of any particular group, right?  Good. – DN)

As outlined in a Streetsblog post last month ("BRU: No Fare Hikes
Without Public Process
"), the Bus Riders Union has taken a vocal stance
against Metro implementing a previously approved fare increase without
a new public hearing first being held.

Act
II of this drama was played out last Wednesday (March 17th). The Daily
News choose to treat a BRU protest
against fare hikes held that day in
front of the Metro headquarters building as just one
of several protests occurring simultaneously in the region, with its
coverage mostly focused on protests as a symptom of the modern
political culture.

The
article contained no hint that the BRU protest in fact had a specific
motivation. It was in reaction to a Metro staff report on the status of
implementing the aforementioned scheduled fare increase on July 1, 2010
presented that day at the Metro Board Finance and Budget Committee
(agenda item #19

In two
pages this receive and file report outlined the staff’s stance:
"Consistent with federal requirements, both the public hearing held and
the Title VI analysis in May 2007 that showed no findings of
discrimination covered this proposed increase. Therefore, no further
public hearing or Title VI analysis is required to implement this
previously approved fare increase."

By my calculations the
Board would need by the April 22nd Board meeting to pass a motion
directing such a hearing be held, otherwise the agency will commence
public outreach and other actions to facilitate the increase on July
1. Even the Board has over the years had to accept certain structural
limitations on its powers and I think the timeline I have outlined is
one such example.

After their protest a BRU contingent went
inside to attend the Committee meeting and in public comment on the
staff report ask that the Board hold a hearing. To my knowledge they
didn’t make any noises about undertaking legal action. But while I’m no
lawyer I don’t see that the BRU has any legal grounds to press their
demands. All the rules were followed and a vote was taken. You can
never predict what the outcome of a lawsuit would be but initially
prospects of success appear dim (even for an injunction).

Of
course this is also a political process. But here too I would suspect
various factors don’t favor the Board going along with the BRU’s demand.

While
it is true L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa pandered to the BRU in 2007 with an
alternative fare proposal that eventually was rejected by a majority of
the Metro Board, in the intervening years the already eroding
relationship between Villaraigosa and the BRU has probably snapped
(especially in the wake of the BRU’s strident position against passage
of Measure R, the Mayor’s key transportation plank). So I wouldn’t look
for the BRU getting any help from the Mayor or his three Board
appointees.

Further vote calculations involve the murky world
of the interpersonal dynamics of the Metro Board. One thing to remember
is the Board members are well aware of what is in store for them if the
BRU has its way based on what happened in 2007–a long day of an
endless parade of people entreating the Board not to raise fares,
mostly stage managed into a blur of soundbites (the BRU even had some
speakers demanding fare cuts). And after being beaten up the fiscal
realities would still compel the Board to raise fares, only now in the
visible role of villains.

But if the Board goes along with
having the increase happen automatically they avoid all that drama.
From their perspective it is readily apparent why this is an appealing
option.

Looking over the balance of the Metro Board members
sans the city of L.A. contingent, the only two members likely even to
look favorable upon making a motion for such a hearing are either
Supervisor Molina or Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. But even if
either requested the item be placed on the April Board agenda, how
likely would it be to get the 7 votes needed to pass? Slim to none, in
my view. The other Supervisors have a dim view of the BRU and the City
Selection Committee members have mostly a similar mind-set born from
enduring years of BRU protests. Behind the scenes one imagines the
municipal operators see this as a threat to their funding and will add
the weight of their substantial influence to squelch any thoughts of
having a hearing.

The
clock is ticking. We’ll soon know if any new factors come into play or
whether the Metro Board finds its best option is to hang back and let
the previously approved fare increase go into effect.

Update, 11:42 A.M.:Kymberleigh Richards informs me at the Metro Board meeting yesterday
before adjournment Los Angeles Mayor/Second Vice Chair Antonio
Villaraigosa asked that the agenda of the Operations Committee meeting
next month include an item for discussion on the possibility of the
Board holding a public hearing on the fare increase. Note the careful
wording of only seeking a discussion of the idea. I have to imagine
this will draw another BRU protest and contingent providing public
comment at the Committee urging the Board hold a hearing.

Given his roots in left politics this may be a gesture by Villaraigosa
to a constituency to give him the ability to say he made the effort to
have the Board consider the idea.

I’d like to acknowledge Kymberleigh Richards as having first brought
the staff report and BRU comments at the Committee meeting to my
attention. After that, the puzzle pieces starting falling into place. – DG

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