Rail Interfering With Civil Rights in Los Angeles
Prospects for Seattle

From: Emory Bundy

Subject: LA as Harbinger for Seattle

Date: Sunday, 24 September, 2000 05:00

Friends: For the last four-plus years I've followed the transit experience of LA closely, because it has such striking similarities to the rail-building aspirations and funding mechanisms of the Seattle area, and it is a decade further down the road. Both the motivations and consequences are revealed in this article, from today's LA Times.

Reference to the civil rights consent decree is the settlement agreement brought by the LA NAACP Legal Defense Fund on behalf of low-income, largely minority bus riders, and bus drivers. They were victimized by the rail projects, inflicted with higher fares, deteriorating service, and radically lower per-rider subsidies contrasted to up-scale train riders. It was a harbinger for Seattle that, when Ron Sims put forth his TRIP 21 plan--which would raid the local option tax provided by the state legislature to assist the I-695-impacted local bus transit agencies, and deflect part of the money to a Sound Transit rail bailout--it was accompanied by raised fares for bus riders.

While LA's model provides rewards for the construction industry and political establishment, it is retrogressive in terms of transit service and ridership, and is accompanied by acute social injustice. Today, in order to sustain the flow of lucrative construction contracts, MTA proposes to cut the wages of bus drivers, and it is resisting in court its consent decree to restore better bus service. At this time, Save Our Valley has a federal civil rights case before the courts, pertaining to Sound Transit's treatment of lower income, minority, and immigrant communties of the Rainier Valley, with underlying causes strikingly similar to the earlier litigation of the LA NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

LA's story offers an object lesson of the short-term incentives, and long-term, adverse consequences, that accompany the unseemly pursuit of pork barrel construction subsidies


"The prospect of more rail lines is far more appealing to most MTA board members than running a bus system. Rail projects are seen as politically sexier than buses. They bring the potential to award large contracts to engineering, construction and other companies, which have a history of being active contributors to political campaigns, which the MTA's board members must regularly conduct." (Yet the buses still serve 85 percent of LA's transit patrons. The average annual income of a train rider is $65,000, a bus rider, less than $15,000.)

(c) 2000 www.publicpurpose.com --- Wendell Cox Consultancy --- Permission granted to use with attribution.
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