Local Advocates Mourn “Death of Transit” as Part of National Campaign

RIP_BART.jpgMock funeral for transit today in Oakland. Photos: Matthew Roth

Transit advocates, transit riders, politicians, and religious figures mourned the continual underfunding of transit operations by staging a mock funeral for public transit above the 12th Street/Oakland BART station today. The event was tied to a national campaign led by Transit Riders for Public Transportation (TRPT), the Transportation Equity Network and Transportation for America to pressure Congress to provide funding for transit operations.

"Operating funds are desperately needed," said Rev. Scott Denman, Rector at St. John's Episcopal of Oakland and President of Genesis, which helped organize the Oakland event with Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, TransForm, CALPIRG, and BOSS. "It's time to understand and remember the grief that is in our communities because of what is happening to transit, the impact that transit cuts are having on our poor, the impact that it's having on our economy, the impact it's having on our environment."

As the recession deepens, public transit operators struggle with declining public funding and revenues, a situation that has led to fare increases (SFMTA, BART, AC Transit and East Contra Costa County buses) and expected increases (VTA, SamTrans, Caltrain) throughout the Bay area. According to press material from Public Advocates, operating deficits this year exceed $350 million regionally.

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“I depend on AC Transit for everything I need,” said bus rider Sylvia Darensburg from East Oakland. “AC Transit used to run like clockwork. Now, however, routes have been cut and buses run less frequently, even as fares go up. Late buses have cost me jobs due to tardiness, and I’ve has been forced to turn down many better-paying jobs because they are inaccessible by public transit.”

With no help from the state budget, and judicial remediation for transit operators at least a year off, speakers at the funeral encouraged support of HR 2746, introduced by Rep. Russ Carnahan of Missouri and co-sponsored locally by Rep Barbara Lee and Rep Jerry McNerney. The legislation would give local transit systems the ability to use anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of their federal capital grants to pay for local operations.

"Transit service is a critical part of our transportation network," said Carli Paine, Transportation Program Director for TransForm. "And, by keeping our buses, trains and ferries running, operating funds accomplish a triple bottom-line: they provide access to people who rely on it, create jobs, and help meet climate and health goals."

Given the sorry state of California finances, it's clear advocates have turned their efforts to Washington. Unfortunately, even if the house bill is passed, it could get caught up by California's own Senator Barbara Boxer, who has already delayed the re-athorization of the transportation act for at least a year and a half.

"To cut congestion and pollution and restore our economy, we need Congress to give Californians more transportation options by investing in our local bus and rail services," said Emily Rusch, State Director for CALPIRG. "This week's disappointing state budget deal cutting roughly $1 billion from California's public transit agencies demonstrates that the solution lies in Washington."

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