Bus Riders Union

Publication Date: 
Thursday, February 19, 2009

BRU about image

"We're the BRU, and this is our fight.

Mass transportation is a human right"

Recognized nationally for its historic civil rights Consent Decree and signature creative tactics, the Bus Riders Union is a multiracial dynamo of 200 active members, 3,000 dues-paying members, and 50,000 supporters on the buses of L.A. The BRU has literally saved public transportation in Los Angeles and become the country's largest grassroots mass transit advocacy organization. From our focus on mass transit, the BRU carries out a wide, multi-issue progressive agenda based in comprehensive principles of unity and strong membership agreement.

  • $20 Monthly Bus Pass
  • 50-cent Fare with Free Transfer
  • Double the 2,500 Clean Fuel Bus Fleet to 5,000
  • Freeze Rail Spending
  • Full Implementation of civil rights Consent Decree
  • $10 Student Bus Pass Sold at Schools (K-12, College, and Adult School)

Victories since 1994

  • More than $2.5 billion redistributed to bus riders through Federal Civil Rights Consent Decree, 1996-2006
  • Bus Only Lane on the 20-mile Wilshire Blvd. from downtown to the ocean (finished 2010)
  • No fare increase for 9 years; saved Monthly Bus Pass from elimination
  • Created the largest clean fuel fleet in the county (replacing 1800 diesel buses and adding 550 expansion CNG buses)
  • New Rapid Bus lines that dramatically reduce transit times on major surface streets.
  • 1 Million+ Annual Bus Service Hours Added
  • 12% Increase in Bus Ridership
  • Created 800+ New Public Sector, Green, Union Jobs
  • Eliminated the Student Pass Application Process (increasing its use by 64%)


From an historic civil rights Consent Decree to direct action and civil disobedience, the Bus Riders Union (BRU), also known across L.A. as El Sindicato de Pasajeros, is a multiracial dynamo of 200 active members, with 3,000 dues-paying members, and a constituency of 500,000 transit-dependent bus riders. The BRU has literally saved public transportation in Los Angeles and has become one of the largest multiracial, mass transportation, grassroots organizations in the U.S. Led by Manuel Criollo, Barbara Lott-Holland, Shepherd Petit, Esperanza Martinez, Elena Astilleras, and the BRU Planning Committee, the BRU is organizing on the buses of L.A., picking up 1,000 members a year in Spanish, Korean, and English. Through lawsuits and direct action since 1993 we have won

  1. $2.7 billion in public funds to improve the bus system
  2. replaced 2,000 diesel buses with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses
  3. expanded the fleet by another 500 clean fuel buses.
  • Our Billions for Buses demands continue:
  • 1,000 new clean-fuel buses
  • No Fare increasesNo service cutsExtend the MTA/BRU Consent Decree for five more years
  • A moratorium on all rail and highway construction

The BRU/SDP was initiated in 1992 as the Strategy Center's Transportation Policy Group and soon began organizing bus riders in the "Billions for Buses" campaign to confront and defeat the transit racism reflected in the policies of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). In 1994, the BRU led popular protests against a massive fare hike and obtained a temporary restraining order to stop the MTA in its tracks. The BRU then sued the MTA for violating the civil rights of transit dependent bus riders.

In 1994, the Labor/Community Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union, along with the Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates and Southern Christian Leadership Conference, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, brought suit against the Los Angeles MTA, charging them with violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibits government agencies that receive any federal funds from distributing those funds in a racially discriminatory manner. The Strategy Center, BRU, and NAACP LDF charged the MTA with establishing a separate and unequal mass transit system-a dilapidated, overcrowded bus system for 400,000 overwhelmingly Latino, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islander bus riders (at that time, estimated at 81% people of color, but on most of the worst inner-city lines it was essentially 100% people of color).

When the MTA signed the civil rights Consent Decree in late 1996, the BRU took up a formidable obligation-to represent the civil rights of 400,000 daily bus riders in Los Angeles County-88% of whom are people of color, more than 50% of whom have annual family incomes under $12,000 and 57% of whom are women.

Since then, we have written a new chapter in the civil rights and environmental justice movement: a grassroots group wins a well-known civil rights suit, but then has the guts and commitment to enforce its provisions for a decade to build a clean-fuel, world-class mass transportation system in the most air polluted and auto-dominated city in the U.S.