AQMD Chair William Burke Speaks Against Transit (Updated 12/15)

SCAQMD Chair William Burke - capture from AQMD video
SCAQMD Chair William Burke - capture from AQMD video

(Updated 12/15: On initial publication SBLA stated that the Flyaway bus exchange “appears to have been scrubbed from the meeting video posted at the AQMD webcast page.” SBLA was wrong. The article has been corrected. The exchange was not scrubbed. It appears at minute 2:54, late in the LAX discussion. SBLA apologizes for the error.)

At last week’s meeting of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), Governing Board Chair Dr. William Burke made comments disparaging taking transit to LAX. Per a video posted at Twitter, Burke responded to public comment implying that the bus is not appropriate for “old people.”

The AQMD regulates air quality for a region comprised of four counties: Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside.

Chair William Burke has served on the AQMD board since 1993. Politically well-connected, Burke is best known as the founder and head of the City of Los Angeles Marathon. He is married to former County Supervisor and Congressmember Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who served on the Metro board for many years. They are the parents of State Assemblymember Autumn Burke.

Burke’s remarks came during a discussion of airport regulations (starting at minute 1:34). Burke praised Orange County’s John Wayne Airport as being worth it to “drive an extra hour to” and expressed his “aggravation” at driving to pick up his wife at LAX and waiting “an hour and a half” in traffic to get to Terminal 6, while his “87-year-old wife had to stand out in the middle of the street” due to the new LAX-it configuration preventing private drivers from the “inside lane.”

In the video she posted, Jessica Craven praises the airport Flyaway Bus. In an exchange that is difficult to make out (listen to the official recording – at minute 2:54), Burke interrupts the speaker apparently stating “my wife’s 87 years old – you’re talking about Flyaway Bus.” Then Craven speaks and Burke again interrupts stating “old people – we’re just going to [uninteligible.]”

Burke’s anti-transit attitude is an example of what transit expert Jarrett Walker terms “elite projection.” Walker describes the problem as “elites assume (subtly or overtly) that bus service doesn’t matter because it’s not useful to them personally.” Even if Burke or his wife never personally ride a bus, bus transportation offers broad societal benefits to air quality, the environment, environmental justice, and mobility. Burke benefits from L.A. buses even if he never rides them. Had no buses served LAX, Burke’s hour and a half delay might have been even longer.

Plenty of seniors, including 87-year-olds, ride transit in Southern California; recent Metro surveys show about ten percent of its riders are older than 65.

Metro’s recent experience during the A Line light rail refurbishment shows that when bus lines are frequent, fast (including dedicated bus lanes), and reliable, many people even prefer them over rail.

Contrast Burke’s dismissiveness with sentiments expressed by Bay Area District boardmember John J. Bauters, an Emeryville City Councilmember.

Should someone with Burke’s negativity toward transit really be chairing a body charged with improving Southern California air quality?

Perhaps eight SCAQMD terms is enough, and the State Assembly could consider naming an AQMD who supports sensible proven air quality improvement measures, like bus transit connections to LAX.

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