Tuesday, November 07, 2006

El Pueblo de Los Angeles Demands 1,000 More Buses

By international standards, Los Angeles has a horrendous mass transit system. It also has the worst traffic and the worst air in the country. Since 1992, the Bus Riders Union has taken the battle to City Hall and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to improve mass transit. This rally took place on Oct. 17th, 2006 in front of City Hall.

Los Angeles County is the 17th largest economy in the world and has a gross product of $373.2 billion, according to the MTA's 2006 Fiscal Year Budget, whose current fiscal year budget is a little more than $3 billion. According to current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa during his 2005 campaign, traffic costs the Los Angeles economy $11 billion dollars per year. His dream of building a subway to the sea would cost upwards of $5 billion.

However, this dream has been proposed and would have been completed by now, but has lingered for more than two decades. According to Eric Berkowitz's story on the possible extension of the red line to the sea which appeared in The LA Weekly, racist Westside residents who did not want people of color coming to and through their neighborhoods were the main cause for it never having been constructed.

The BRU sued the MTA in 1994 for violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and won a historic consent decree. The suit charged the MTA with "establishing a discriminatory, separate, and unequal transportaion system while using federal funds." The BRU opposes subway and rail expansion until all the consent decree obligations are met. However, the consent decree recently expired, and has not been extended.

At the crux of the disagreement is perception regarding whether Los Angeles has adequate bus service. The MTA has never fully complied with the requirements of the consent decree, and believes that there are more buses than there are people to ride them. In fact, MTA CEO Roger Snoble even blamed buses for Los Angeles' traffic problems in Berkowitz's story. "We're not taking cars off the street. In fact, we're adding buses to the streets, which is causing more traffic jams." Berkowitz agreed with Snoble's general perception: "The result is a big outlay of money for a lot of empty buses."

In April 2005 Roger Snoble appeared in Mass Transit magazine(I'm holding a copy of the issue in my hand, but curiously, this particular issue is not listed on their website) and gave this magazine the same impression. The article description in the table of contents read: "Then there's the decade-long decree that demands more buses than there are people to ride them, draining the agency's coffers and crippling its progress." He made the following comment to the magazine regarding the BRU: "They got the idea that they should sue us because it was a 'civil rights matter,' that the money wasn't going toward minority populations which relied on the bus. The whole concept of it is very racist."

Today, both bus service and the subway system in Los Angeles are horrendously inadequate, and if you happen to be a certain color in a certain neighborhood while waiting for the bus, you may even get harassed by the Los Angeles Police Department, it happened to a friend of mine.

Once I was riding the bus around 8pm when the bus driver stalled and two cops got on the bus and busted a couple of teenagers for etching graffiti on the windows. The kids didn't just get busted, the bus got taken out of service. The driver actually thought he was doing a good thing. The next five buses were out of service. The next available bus didn't come for half an hour. I was late to were I was going.

In a society as wealthy as ours(California is the 5th or 6th largest economy in the world) that refuses to adequately invest in basic needs such as transportation, healthcare, and education, if I have to choose due to limited government revenue between police and mass transit, I'm going to choose mass transit. Thus I support and completely agree with the BRU's demands for 1000 more buses and 1000 less police.

I believe that it is necessary to transform the transportation system of the state of California, and to help relieve the problem of limited government revenue which is pitting people against each other, we should increase the gasoline tax and apply it towards mass transit. It is resistance to taxation, which is preventing progress, not just on the transportation front, but across the society as a whole.


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