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by Carolina and Joe Chafe Monday, Jun. 02, 2003 at 5:39 PM

Los Angeles County's transit board voted 9-4 on May 22 to raise the cost of monthly bus and rail transit passes and fares. The hikes,will take effect Jan. 1, are expected to provide about million in additional revenues .

Los Angeles County's Metropolitan Transit board voted 9-4 (Hahn, Yoh, Paul Hudson, and Yvonne

Braithwaite Burke were the dissenting votes) to raise the cost of monthly bus

and rail transit passes from to (+), semimonthly passes from to (+), and weekly passes from to (+). The cash fare price will be lowered 10 cents from .35 to .25. A .00 day pass will replace the 25 cent transfer. Student, senior, and disabled passes will remain the same. The current 4 fare zones will be consolidated into 2 zones, and price of tokens will be increased from .90 cents to .10 and be phased out when the Universal Fare System (UFS) is implemented. The hikes, which take effect Jan. 1, are expected

to provide about million in additional revenues annually.

Before the Vote, Bus Riders Union (BRU) members with bright yellow tee-shirts and BRU headbands

huddled outside MTA headquarters at Cesar Chavez and Vignes in Los Angeles Thursday 22May2003 to coordinate their activity prior to entering for the

meeting of MTA board members. They passed out a flyer with chants such as:

You can’t vote

You don’t even ride the bus

You can’t vote ‘till you listen to us

Mayor James Hahn Don’t hide behind Hal’s chair

dollar passes and 50 cent fair

The B the R the U is in the fight

We want our public comment

We demand our civil rights

The (BRU) press release available outside urged board members to vote down the

proposed fare hike claiming that it would “steal million from the lowest

income residents in LA County. On the table Thursday is a 25% increase in the

price of bus passes and tokens and the elimination of transfers.”….“As of now,

MTA Chair Hal Bernson has said that the public will be barred from speaking at

the Thursday vote on the fare increase. Our right to speak is inviolable. The

BRU will speak on the fare increase at the board meeting. Similarly, the BRU

will not take a fare hike lying down.” Jim Lafferty of the National Lawyers

Guild, who was present at the board meeting, said that he thought that what the

board was doing was “shameful because not only because we know the result of today’s vote is going

to harm the financial well-being of hundreds of thousands of low income people

of Los Angeles, but they [MTA board] don’t even have the courage to face people

and allow them to have a hearing today. They want to hide behind some

technicalities that they had some hearing before when only 3 of the 13 [MTA board members] were present. If they’re going to do this shameful thing you’d

think they would at least have the decency to face the public and allow the public to comment on it before they do it. So they ought to be ashamed of

themselves. But it won’t stand. The BRU has proven before that it can beat back these uncivil attacks and I’m sure they’ll beat back this one too.”

As the 930am-scheduled meeting began Cynthia Rojas of BRU got up to speak but

was told to sit down. She refused and continued to demand that the public be

allowed to speak. When the board continued to refuse, the BRU and supporters

took up the chant “Let her speak.” Then the whole board got up and left the

room. Another chant during the hiatus as “The B the R the U is in the fight…etc.) as above. When the board returned ½ hour to 45 minutes later they

said they would allow ½ hour of input from the public. Each speaker was allotted one minute which was counted down on a large projection on the front

wall. At the end of each minute the mike was turned off.

Most of the speakers were opposed to the fare hike citing the hardships it would create for them.

Some used dramatic visual aids. One lady showed us diapers she would have to forgo. Another lady took clothes out of a bag and threw them around her to show the kinds of clothes she would have to do without if proposed fare hikes were voted in. And another, John Walsh, actually ate a bus pass to

demonstrate his opposition to the fair hike.

We spoke with BRU representative Cynthia Rojas the day before the vote: The fare hike represents a “big change” she said, because “most of the people who

ride buses are very low income working class people from predominantly Latino, Black, Asian immigrant communities, and in addition many seniors and many

students ride the bus. These are folks with fixed incomes that will be the most

impacted by these changes. So even though the increase in the monthly pass

might not sound like a lot to the average person, to the garment workers,

domestic workers, security guards who are supporting families on minimum wages

or less, this is a dramatic shift in their finances. So we at the BRU are

opposed to the MTA’s proposals knowing that there are alternatives to charging

bus riders more as a revenue source which is what they claim they are trying to

do. So we’re looking to take many actions against the fare increase if it is to

pass tomorrow including legal, political. There are!

many members on the MTA board that represent these very communities which will

be impacted and who need to be held accountable for their actions.”

Rick Jager, a media relations spokesperson with MTA, commented: “the reason we

are proposing to restructure the fare is because we’re facing a 64 million

dollar deficit next fiscal year because of the state budget crisis. We haven’t

raised fares in nearly 9 years. We haven’t raised the cost of the monthly pass

since 1989. But inflation in the price of goods continues to rise. So we need

to restructure our fares.” When asked about relations between MTA and BRU,

Jager said “…we have a joint working group with the BRU that meet regularly to

discuss services that we provide. We spend about 100 million dollars a year in

increased services as a result of actions taken by the BRU. And this next year

we’ll spend and additional 30 million dollars to implement some of the programs

that are needed to improve the bus system. Our budget allocates over a billion

dollars to operate the bus system. We think we’ve come a long way, but we also

have to face realities that the state bu!

dget is in a crisis here. Funding is slim, and we have to generate some

additional funding so that we have a balanced budget.” When we mentioned that

the rail system might be using up much of the resources, Jager commented: “Our

budget has allocated over a billion dollars to the bus system and about 400

million for the rail. You do the math.”

Commenting on MTA’s lack of funds, James Lafferty said “everybody is strapped

for funds if you’re constantly trying to support city services on the backs of

the poor. If you had the kind of corporate taxes, if you had the kind of

property taxes, if you didn’t have all these give-aways to major

corporations--the city, the county and the board would have the money that it

needs to provide decent bus service to people without jacking the fares up and

making the bus service be paid for in essence by the poorest people in town.

That’s why they don’t have any money--because they’re constantly giving breaks

to the fat-cat corporations.”

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