Transportation Justice Program
For immediate release
April 16, 2014
In spite of rising gas prices, worsening traffic, and growing public concern about climate change, voters in two of the largest and most diverse counties in the state rejected transportation tax measures (Measures J and B1) that promised to meet these important transportation needs. Yet, these same voters, only four years earlier, in the case of Los Angeles County, and 12 years before, in the case of Alameda County, approved similar measures (Measures R and B) with strong support. What has changed in that time and what does this mean for transit-dependent communities and their transportation justice allies?
Alameda County’s Measure B1, promoted by Urban Habitat and many of its allies, included many important benefits for low-income bus riders. These were critical funds to improve bus service and restore cuts in service, provide seed money for a county-wide free student bus pass program, make major investments in bicycle lane and sidewalk safety, as well as provide more money for paratransit for seniors and people with disabilities. For this reason, B1 didn’t face the same grassroots opposition that Measure J did.
Like Measure J, B1 was a sales tax measure that would have continued to shift the transportation tax burden onto working families and away from corporations and wealthy individuals. (This is one of the main reasons why, after much debate, Urban Habitat ultimately decided not to endorse the final B1 measure. We were also concerned that the tax would become permanent and that it lacked protections against gentrification and the displacement of low-income renters from neighborhoods well-served by transit.)
The bid by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to extend an existing transportation sales tax until 2069 failed to meet the necessary 2/3 threshold, delivering a setback to the Mayor's gentrifying and polluting vision for transportation expansion.
Sunyoung Yang, an organizer with the LA Bus Riders Union, which opposed the measure says, “Despite a multimillion dollar corporate-funded ad blitz and misleading ballot language, substantial numbers of voters heard our message about Measure J.”
The Coalition to Defeat Measure J hailed the result not as a defeat for mass transit progress, but as a rejection of MTA's pattern of running roughshod over civil rights, environmental justice, and community concerns in favor of corporate special interests.
Yang explains: “This is not a denial of funds for the MTA. This result forces a shift in the debate on how to redistribute the ample funds from Measure R that MTA already has, with racial equality, social justice, and good transit policy for all at the core.“
Low-income youth of San Francisco will be able to ride Muni for free during a 16-month trial period starting early next year, thanks to the efforts of a broad community coalition. After a two-year campaign, the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) gave final approval for the funding on December 4, 2012. Campaign organizers want the program to begin in February, with a massive drive to sign up youth for free passes fully underway by March.
In November 2011, the coalition won crucial support when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors lent its support to the campaign. Spirited actions by youth, parents, and community advocates through 2011 had been aimed at winning relief for students and their families from the rising cost of bus and light rail fares following school district cuts to funding for yellow school buses.
On December 6, an important step was taken in the battle to keep neighborhoods, with good transit, affordable to the low-income residents who depend on the bus and BART to get to work, school and other places they go to daily.
The Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) Board voted on a final set of One Bay Area Grant (OBAG) Scoring Criteria. Responding to the recommendations of Urban Habitat and members of the Equitable Transit Oriented Development Coalition (see list below), the Board increased the possible points earned for affordable housing and anti-displacement to 9 (from 3). They also increased the points for projects that improve access to frequent transit to 6 (from 3).
For the first time in its history, San Francisco youth will be able to travel to and from school, work, after-school programs and other activities throughout the city for free.
A vote by the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency board (SFMTA) on Wednesday to approve the Free Muni for Low-Income Youth means that the cost of public transit no longer will be a barrier to opportunity for young people in San Francisco.
For the past two years, youth and transit advocates tirelessly fought to transform the free Muni program from an idea into a reality.
B1’s incredibly narrow loss is bittersweet for us at Urban Habitat, who had worked incredibly hard to make sure it would improve transit for Alameda County’s low-income and working-class residents.
Measure B1 included many important benefits to the county’s transportation system and, particularly its most vulnerable residents — in the form of funds for restoring AC Transit service, improving paratransit for the elderly and disabled, new bike lanes and sidewalks, and seed funding for a countywide Free Student Bus Pass program. These are all funds badly needed to put Alameda County on a path toward more sustainable and equitable transportation modes.
The funds in B1 would have enabled AC Transit to add back bus lines that had been cut, expand evening and weekend service, and make buses run more frequently and more on-time. Without B1, AC Transit may need to cut further from its already skeletal service, and it will definitely try to push another fare hike on its already-taxed riders.
The much-debated plan to let low-income kids in San Francisco hop aboard Muni for free apparently died Wednesday as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission narrowly voted against giving the plan $4 million in regional transportation funds.
The commission voted 8-7 against a motion to fund the 22-month free Muni plan, give $1 million to a two-year reduced- fare plan for low-income adults in Santa Clara County, and contribute $500,000 to an Alameda County student pass plan with a possible $2.5 million later. The vote split along regional lines with commissioners from San Francisco, the Peninsula and the South Bay favoring the program and East Bay and North Bay representatives opposed.
The MTC vote leaves Muni's $9.4 million plan, which was to start on Aug. 1, $5 million short. Municipal Transportation Agency officials declined to declare the free-fare program dead, but have said repeatedly that they can't afford to contribute any extra money.
Hard work and heartfelt testimony by young people and their allies broadened support for Free Muni for Youth among the members of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)—but MTC still wasn’t ready to fund a project that mainly benefits low-income youth and youth of color. The Commission rejected a proposal to allocate $4 million to the Free Youth Pass pilot program by a vote of 8 to 7 at its July 25 meeting. Commissioners from San Francisco, the Peninsula and the South Bay backed the program, while East Bay and North Bay representatives opposed it.
Youth from POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights) responded to the vote with an unscheduled public comment, filling the room with chants of “Spread the word, spread the truth/Free Muni for all our youth!” and “We’ll be back!” before leaving the building.
Around 70 youth and supporters from all over the Bay Area attended the Wednesday morning MTC meeting. On the steps outside the agency’s headquarters after the vote, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos put the events in perspective.
Support Free Youth Passes
WHAT: Show your support for affordable public transit
WHEN: Wednesday, July 25th 9:30am
WHERE: Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), 101 8th St., Oakland (near Lake Merritt BART station)
Finally, after over a year of organizing to support affordable youth transportation, tomorrow is our big day.
Join us to support Staff Option #2, which funds:
Free youth passes in San Francisco and Alameda Counties, and
Low-income passes in Santa Clara County.
We hope we can count on your support tomorrow.