Wednesday, May 30, 2007

MTA Fares Go Up, Mayor Stung? A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing...

I have included excerpts of the LA Times coverage below, but I recommend you read the whole article if you are following the case of the rising bus fare in LA. Last week the MTA approved significant increases to the existing fare structure, but backed off it's initial proposal. On May 18th the Mayor proposed a compromise that last week was shot down by the MTA. As a result, the cost of an MTA day pass will double by 2009.

I think the Mayor played this one to his advantage. After all it’s his MTA Board that proposed the initial fare hikes. Their proposal was obviously too extreme, the Mayor then came in and offered to broker a compromise position and in the end the MTA got what they wanted – fare hikes – that look more reasonable than the outrageous initial proposal, the Mayor got to get in the middle and stand in the sunshine and now the BRU can’t blame the Mayor because he really tried to help. The LA Times thinks this was a stinging defeat, I disagree completely. I think it was successful for the mayor, he got some of the fare hikes he needs to expand his other public transit priority (rail service) and he got some street cred from the BRU by fighting the MTA. It might look like a stinging defeat, but there was more than one wolf in sheep’s clothing. It seems again that the only people who lose out are the MTA's riders. Is the new compromise fare hike racist? It certainly disproportionately will affect the very young, the very old, and many people of color. Not the influence-peddlers of LA politics.

Los Angeles County transit leaders Thursday approved the first across-the-board fare increase in more than a decade, despite emotional testimony from hundreds of bus riders who said they could not afford steep price hikes.
The new fares — which apply to both bus and rail service — are less than the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's staff had sought but will still increase the amount riders pay significantly over the next two years. The cost of the monthly pass will gradually rise from $52 to $75 by July 1, 2009. The popular day pass will rise from $3 to $6 over the same period.
The decision by the MTA's Board of Directors marks a stinging defeat for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had tried to broker a compromise that would have raised most fares only 5% a year. But the board roundly rejected the mayor's proposal, saying it would leave the agency with a deep operating deficit and would delay future rail projects.
"When you look at so many of them who make the minimum wage, who make less than the poverty level, clearly they are not going to be able to afford it," Villaraigosa said afterward.
The 9-4 vote marks a pivotal moment for mass transit in Los Angeles. The MTA had been unable to significantly raise fares for the last decade because of a federal consent decree established after bus riders and civil rights groups sued the agency in a bid to improve bus service.

The MTA's original proposal called for the daily cash fare to rise to $2 per ride from $1.25 and the monthly pass to $120 from $52 over the next two years.
But the 13-member board — which includes the mayor, all five county supervisors and other officials — quickly agreed that the proposal was draconian. The majority also agreed, however, that the mayor's plan was unworkable because it would not raise enough revenue and called for more borrowing to buy buses. The mayor's proposal was rejected on an 8-5 vote.
Instead, Supervisor Gloria Molina proposed the alternative that won approval. The new fare schedule is more modest, but it still packs a punch. The single-ride cash fare will rise the least, from $1.25 to $1.50 over the next two years. But most riders use some form of a pass, which will see bigger increases. The costs of a monthly pass will rise 44%, and the cost of the daily pass will double. The monthly pass for senior citizens will rise from $12 to $17 — a 42% increase but a far cry from the 400% jump (to $60) the MTA originally proposed. The first fare increase takes effect July 1.

Villaraigosa was hoping to bring the board together on a compromise that would soften the blow for riders. Instead, he drew strong criticism from Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who called the mayor's stance disingenuous. During a heated exchange, Yaroslavsky said Villaraigosa had indicated that he would support a fare increase in a closed session last summer after the MTA board agreed to a new contract with bus drivers and mechanics.
A visibly angry Villaraigosa shot back, accusing Yaroslavsky of mischaracterizing private conversations and then lashing out at the supervisor for sitting in his office while the mayor was in Sacramento on Wednesday trying to get more transportation funding. Villaraigosa then said Yaroslavsky didn't have the courage to propose his own fare increases, calling him a "sheep who walks in wolf's clothing."
The vote came at the end of five hours of comments from hundreds of bus riders who packed the MTA boardroom, overflowing into four other rooms at the towering downtown headquarters. The turnout, estimated by police at 1,500, was so large that at one point the building's lobby was closed down by fire officials citing potential danger.

The protests were tinged with charges of racism on the part of the MTA board because the vast majority of riders are Latino and black. Some critics argue that the MTA favors more rail systems aimed at getting commuters out of their cars at the expense of those solely dependent on buses for transportation. An MTA survey showed that the median household income of rail riders is $22,000 a year, compared with $12,000 for bus riders.
There were a few voices in support of the fare hikes.

Dozens of members of the Bus Riders Union began chanting, "Fight transit racism — and see you in court!" and "Thanks Villaraigosa, you gave a good fight."

1 comment:

Scott said...

You're right on. The L.A. Times couldn't read between the lines.

In fact, cynic that I am, it wouldn't surprise me if the whole ballet was worked out behind closed doors between Villaraigosa, Molina, Snoble and Yaroslavsky.

Everybody had their little part to play, and they played to perfection.

If you'd like a clue, take note that while Mayor Tony was "berating" Yaroslavsky in the fare hearing, Zev-O just sat there and took it, didn't say a word. He was probably rolling his eyes, though, thinking, "a little over the top, don't you think, Tony?"

Having said that, a fare increase was long overdue. If the BRU had allowed gradual fare increases of 2% or 3% every couple years during the decade of the consent decree, people could have absorbed such small gradual increases into their budgets, obviating the need for a huge fare increase at this time.

I don't get why the BRU wants the poor to ride around in lousy buses instead of the finest in public transit, trains.