BRU Wins Policy Breakthrough by Securing the 20% of Measure R Bus Improvement funds | October 22, 2009

Greg and MRTAfter a creative and consistent summer campaign to promote the BRU's Clean Air and Economic Justice (CAEJ) plan and to build pressure on our three MTA targets, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Councilmember Jose Huizar, to create a lockbox for the 20% of Measure R funds for bus expansion and to adopt the CAEJ plan as the basis for the 20% designated for a bus system improvement plan, last Thursday, the BRU secured two important policy victories at MTA.


The BRU's First Critical Breakthrough at MTA

Looked like, moving Supervisor Ridley-Thomas to introduce language in an amendment to the 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), which read

"Metro shall not take or reallocate the portion of Measure R funding which was specifically approved by the voters for bus system improvements and operations." 

This came after many BRU testifiers, like Judi Redman challenging the expansion of highway by saying:

"Billions in highway expansion is rooted in the understanding that rail in LA county is a bankrupt policy that will won't actually get people out of their cars, thus will not results in an actual reduction to green house gas emissions." 

And Eric Romann, organizer with the BRU who broke down the details of why our CAEJ plan is the strongest one for mobility and job creation for the region. Grandma Kim, a well respected elder in the Korean community and longtime member of the BRU, said "shame on you Boardmember who would impose service cuts and fare increases to elders and working class people like me."

Lastly, Barbara Lott-Holland challenged the MTA's "structural operations deficit" by statingBLH and MTA

"You cry structural deficit but what you do not say is that it is one that you have created. Your budget has increased by $1 billion dollars over the past 2 years and yet you can sit there and debate over rail and highway expansion meanwhile bus riders and the 20% they were promised are the sacrificial lamb. We have gone national and are doing our part in DC to leverage more funding for operations but you have to do your part here to show you are putting it where it needs to be."

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas opened up his amendment to the LRTP plan and we were all happy to see the above language he introduced to open a conversation about bus expansion. This was a particularly significant policy victory in light of the approval of the 2009 LRTP, MTA's 30-year, $270 billion blueprint for transportation in LA County, calls for over $70 Billion in highway and road construction and another $37.5 billion in rail construction, yet only $19 Billion for bus capital, mainly just to maintain the current fleet. We don't have to look that far back in history to remember that the BRU brought a Title VI civil rights law suit against MTA in the 1990's because MTA was raiding money from an already under-resourced bus system to pay for Metro Rail and Metrolink trains that we know today. Sales tax dollars from Prop A and C were overwhelmingly being used to finance these projects. Even MTA Director and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky himself sponsored a ballot measure in 1998 to bar county sales tax dollars from being used for subway projects due to cost overruns, and the agency's mismanagement. The MTA's own history and their actions to chip away at the gains of the Consent Decree has signaled to us that the current direction of the MTA  and the priorities of Measure R could re-create the very civil rights crisis that led to that lawsuit.

This victory was only made possible by

  • Organizing bus riders themselves to collect over 1200 postcards addressed to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas that gave overall bus service in South Los Angeles a "D" average and called for the BRU's CAEJ plan,
  • Getting dozens of calls in to the Supervisor asking him to protect the 20%,
  • and finally a breakthrough opportunity to sit face to face with the Supervisor himself where BRU members asked him to stand up for Black and Latino bus riders, many of whom live in the Second District!

Now, I don't want to give the illusion that this language or the vote on the draft 2009 LRTP was as smooth as it appeared to be for many that day. Of course, some MTA Board members demonstrated aggravation on different issues related to this 30-year plan and many of us in the public had been raising a series of concerns since the conversation reappeared on the transit scene earlier this summer. BRU Mayor June LRTP

Halting an Undemocratic Process: BRU Helps Delay the June LRTP vote

What began as an undemocratic attempt to approve the LRTP by sideswiping the public turned into battle of the Westside versus the South and Eastside and a fight for highways for the suburbs and rail for the cities. Since that June meeting, when the BRU helped delay an undemocratic vote of the 2009 LRTP, there seemed to be little to no sign of a detailed bus system improvement plan nor anyone willing to champion creating a lockbox for the funds necessary to implement that plan. From this point and building on our concerns with the 2008 LRTP, we challenged the proposed mechanisms to close the "deficit," the prioritization of highway and rail and the undemocratic nature of trying to approve a 65 paged plan that the public had been given access to less than 10 hours before the vote. The rest of the summer was a back and forth between different camps formed on the MTA Board in a fight for priorities, federal funding and potential acceleration of their project.

Back to Thursday's Board meeting, BRU members start arriving at 8am to claim contested space, knowing that people from all parts of the county would come to say their piece for their shiny train. We sat in the Boardroom prepared for the Directors to battle it out to reach a unanimous approval of the 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan. Why would unanimity matter? Because just days before the vote, the prioritization of a $5-7 billion Subway to the Sea and the Downtown Regional Connector, which the Board had approved weeks before, was challenged by 14 members of the Southern California Congressional Delegation on the basis that it could "worsen regional inequity."

This move by Congress yet again highlights the disunity and dysfunction of the agency. These concerns seemed to echo those of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Molina who claimed that the prioritization of the Subway to the Sea favored "that side" of town over the historically under-served areas of South and East Los Angeles. Thus, pushing for the prioritization of the Gold Line extension to Foothill and the Crenshaw Corridor project.

The political splits on the Board were apparent in the way that the Directors seated themselves that morning. Except for a new Huizar BH Superpasajerasface, Mayor appointee and sitting in for Director Huizar was LA City Councilmember Tom LaBonge. A huge disappointment for the BRU given that we had been working with Director Huizar with the hopes that he would introduce alternative language around the 33% fare box recovery ratio instead of introducing a motion to push for a trolley in Downtown Los Angeles as one of his favor major moves on the Board.

Before this vote, we had meetings with Chair Najarian, the Mayor's staff as well as MTA staff we quickly got word that that given the funding gaps, the highway and rail camps could unite to raid the 20% designated for buses. And, behind closed doors and in the MTA Board room the debate raged between the Mayors dream to build the Subway to the Sea in 10 years and the Downtown Regional Connector, the highway boosters and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the fight for the South and East sides of the County - all conversations and potential scenarios left bus riders completely out of the picture, unless of course you take into account the 33% fare box recovery ratio.

LRTP Legion of DoomWe wrote letters, produced a report grading the overall quality of bus service, held rallies, delegations, staged street theater to capture the imagination of bus riders that made inroads with the media as a way to signal to the public that the LRTP would have civil and environmental consequences. The entire plan along with the MTA's unwillingness to allocate bus operation dollars to protect 120,000 bus service hours cut in the FY10 budget could very will recreate the same racially discriminatory policies of the 90's. We wrote a letter to the Federal Transit Administration discussing the details of the LRTP and how MTA moving forward with it could be viewed as an intentional decision to re-create the civil rights crisis for bus riders that led to the Title VI Civil Rights and Equal Protection lawsuit Bus Riders Union vs. MTA, as well as seriously undermine the equal protection enforced under California government code section 11135. This plan could also resulte in a violation of the federal government's Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898, which requires the MTA, as a recipient of federal funds, to conduct an assessment of all its policies and programs to ensure they do not disproportionately harm low income communities and communities of color.

The BRU put out a concrete policy paper and plan for bus expansion, organized in the streets to call on Mayor Villaraigosa and Councilmember Huizar to do adopt the BRU's CAEJ plan, holding meetings with almost half of the Board of Directors were all key pieces to actually inserting the needs of bus riders in the debate and between these competing forces helped position us for these breakthroughs.

BRU's Second Policy Breakthrough at the MTA

EVM MTAOur second policy victory at MTA, takes us back to last Thursday, as the Board prepared to adopt the Measure R bus improvement guidelines, which still did not propose a detailed plan, I got up to speak and challenged the Board:

"What baffles me is that while certain members on this Board demand a highway plan with just as much 'integrity' as the rail plan, I ask you, who is willing to fight for that bus plan that has just as much 'integrity'...adopt the BRU's Clean Air and Economic Justice plan as the basis for the Measure R plan"

We had done enough work leading up to this Board meeting that we were able to compel Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to request that MTA staff produce an actual bus expansion plan that they will report back on in 30 days! Yet another important policy breakthrough for bus riders and a significant gesture made by Mayor Villaraigosa, seconded by Chair Ara Najarian, given that MTA staff has already looked into our CAEJ plan.

Challenges that Lie Ahead: LRTP Approved with 14 Fare Increases and Service Cuts

As important as these victories are, the unfolding of the 2009 LRTP could potentially declare war on the 500,000 bus riders that depend on the bus system. The LRTP poses significant challenges to the region and specifically to the future of the bus system. and could create a civil rights and environmental disaster. The following are components of the plans that we strongly oppose and which were ultimately passed last week:

  1. A 33% fare recover rate - forcing riders to pay for 1/3 of the cost to operate the entire system. This is a tactic to close the MTA's "structural operations deficit" which will be achieved by 2015 through a combination of 14 fare increases and service cuts. What could this look like in real numbers? In the first phase possibly raising the monthly pass to $77 and cutting 1 million hours of service.
  2. A compromise between highway, rail and subway forces whom approved billion dollar capital plans that will result in massive debt financing which sucks money out of bus eligible funding sources impacting the bus system
  3. The expansion of highway will have dire civil and environmental consequences, given that the LRTP includes no concrete plan reduce criteria pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions in LA County 

There is nothing environmentally friendly about a plan that spends billions on highways and imposes 14 fare increases and the reduction of bus service. This will push those that are transit dependent off the system, those that are by default "green Angelenos," because bus riders make an average of $12,000 a year and are the hardest hit by these fare increases. It also creates a disincentive for the choice rider that needs to make that "green leap." According to transit experts, every 10% that you increase fares, you lose 5% of your rider ship, clearly, there is an economic and environmental incentive to keeping fares low. If MTA is so concerned about being like NY MTA then why don't we move to double our bus fleet to 5,000 buses? Or talk about free fares in midtown buses as Mayor Bloomberg is proposing?

We have a lot of work to do ensure that the Mayor's and the Supervisors motions to protect the 20% of Measure for the bus 500 buses 1000s of jobs CAEJ plansystem improvement plan and the call on staff to develop this plan, result in actual improvements in the lives of bus riders and an actual expansion to the bus system. A move that not only is significant but necessary to create a viable alternative to for the 500,000 bus riders, the single passenger auto and to create the permanent and union jobs necessary to help support the sustainability of our communities.

And we have good traction to do so. We have three clear targets that represent five votes on the MTA Board, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his three appointees - Councilmember Huizar, Director Katz, LADOT Manager Rita Robinson, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

BRU and MayorAs always, we need to ensure that we are able to consolidate our breakthroughs and prepare for the upcoming challenges that will be presented by the attempt to build a $7 billion Subway to the Sea that does not have all of the necessary funding, the 2010 fare increase along with the 14 others in the LRTP and an aggressive move to expand highways which will wreak havoc on our lungs and in the world. For this we need you to help build the momentum on the streets and to keep pressure on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Councilmember Huizar, and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas to stay the track and fight this fare increase and any service cuts that we know will be coming.

 Next steps:

  1. Join us on December 1st; to commemorate the 54th anniversary the yearlong Montgomery Bus Boycott that was a significant step in ending racially motivated bus segregation. Location to be determine - check back here for details.
  2. If the reinstatement of STA funds as early as 2011 is a possibility, we must have a tactical game plan in Sacramento to pressure the Governor and Speaker Karen Bass to ensure that those funds come back to operations and are not diverted to backfill other funding gaps.
See you on the streets,
Esperanza V. Martinez
Lead Organizer
Bus Riders Union