Rosa Greenberg – Pomona‘12, Lauren Rettig – Scripps ‘11, Dan Berez – Pitzer ‘13, Morgen Chalmiers – Pomona ‘13, Joseph Morales – Pomona ‘10
Los Angeles is often portrayed in the popular media as a city of glamour, a city filled with fast cars, movie stars, and extravagant mansions. However, this common perception ignores a huge contingent of the L.A. population that, in the auto capital of the world, depends on the city’s bus system for transportation to go to work, attend school, shop for basic necessities, and access medical care. This demographic is largely made up of the urban poor, who are constantly faced with decisions about their well-being that most of us at the Claremont Colleges couldn’t imagine. Due to high bus fares, many L.A. residents must make the choice between food and transportation.
These fares were raised in the summer of 2007 and may be raised again in July of 2010. This proposed increase would change the price of a monthly pass from $62 to $75. An increase of $13 may seem trivial to some, but to a single, working-class mother of three, that’s an additional $156 a year to pay for her transportation alone. The total cost of transportation for her school-aged children in addition to herself, assuming her children do not use public transportation during the summer, will be at minimum $1,236 dollars for the year. If she’s part of the 75% of bus riders who make between $12,000 to $20,000 a yearly, her family’s annual transportation cost could take up as much as 10.3% of her income, assuming she works full time. Clearly, for a working class family, this is an enormous sum of money.
This new fare increase will force the urban poor, whose only means of transport is the city bus system, to choose between food, medical care, rent, and electricity. Such problems of the “inner city” often feel distant from us here in Claremont. However, one of the same systems that exacerbates injustice and inequality in the poor neighborhoods of L.A. is simultaneously working to benefit residents of the surrounding suburbs. This phenomenon is known as transit racism, and the organization that perpetuates it in L.A. County is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
In order to understand transit racism and its implications, it is necessary to examine the demographic differences between bus and Metrolink riders. In terms of racial disparity, bus riders, who reside predominantly in the inner city, are 58% Latino, 22% black, 8% Asian American/Pacific Islander, and 12% white, while the largely suburban population of rail riders is approximately 50% white. Economically speaking, working-class bus riders have much lower incomes than those who ride the Metrolink. More than 75% of bus riders in Los Angeles have annual incomes of only $12,000 to $20,000 a year. In contrast, Metrolink riders surveyed in 2000 had an average annual income of $61,100. Adjusted for inflation, this figure jumps to $77,000. However, it is bus, not Metrolink, fares that are being increased to raise funds for rail expansion.
Beginning in 2007, the MTA implemented a series of fare increases that have historically been used to pay back capital debt for the loans taken out to fund the construction of new rail lines. Over the last few decades, rail expansion has always come at the cost of bus service and riders. Today, this practice continues and is evident in the prioritization of rail projects like the Gold Line, which is planned to extend directly to Claremont. On March 26, 2010, the MTA approved $690 million to fund the construction of this line; this is only one example of an aggressive rail and highway program being pushed by many forces on the MTA board.
Gold Line construction is scheduled to begin this June. Bus fares will be raised in July. The MTA plans to pay for a train line that will serve middle to upper-class residents of the suburbs by increasing the cost of public transportation for those that depend on and need it the most: urban, working-class people of color, 60% of whom are women. These bus passengers are being forced to pay more to travel to work and school for the construction of a line that will benefit the richer, whiter residents of the L.A. suburbs. Residents of these suburbs would then have the option to utilize a local train line, when it is convenient for them, unlike transit-dependent inner-city residents, for whom the bus system is their only means of transportation. Asking the transit-dependent working class to pay for a train line that will serve the suburban middle class is completely unethical and morally reprehensible. But it’s what the MTA has been doing and will continue to do if it is not stopped.
As Claremont College students, we would benefit from the extension of the Gold Line at the expense of the poorest residents of L.A. The proposed fare increase would force bus riders to choose between basic necessities to pay for a train that costs $250 million per mile to build. We need to ask ourselves if we are willing to benefit from the exploitation of the working-class population of L.A. for the sake of a convenient train line that majority of students will use, at most, once or twice a month. There are over 6,000 students at the Claremont Colleges, all of whom the MTA sees as potential riders of the gold line extension. If enough students tell the MTA that we won’t ride a train line financed by an unjust fare increase, they will be forced to listen.
We have the unique opportunity to exercise an extraordinary amount of political power at very little personal risk. Claremont Students for Transit Justice plan to use this opportunity to its fullest extent. In the coming weeks, Claremont Students for Transit Justice will be bringing speakers to campus to talk about issues of transit racism, environmental justice and community organizing.
To learn more about these and other events or, if you’d like to get involved, contact email@example.com and keep an eye out for more information around campus.