MTC Meeting Tomorrow is Muni’s Best Chance for $17 Million

3511239714_3ddb5e734d.jpgA proposed alternative to the Oakland Airport Connector. Image: TransForm
Muni riders have a chance at a reprieve from the one thousand hours per day of lost service that the MTA is proposing to cut in order to plug a $17 million deficit before the end of the fiscal year in June. The service cuts will lead to overcrowded buses on the major routes and the total elimination of service on the outer portions of some routes, while some transit riders will be forced to find alternate means of travel, especially at night.

The potential relief from this scenario is in the form of $70 million in federal stimulus that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, at its meeting tomorrow, could direct to the region's transit agencies instead of to construction of the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC), which faces a large hurdle for failing to comply with federal social equity rules.

As reported here yesterday, the complaint filed by several Bay Area groups specified that BART had not conducted the required social equity analysis to determine how the service would impact low income groups, and that if it did, it would find that the project benefits relatively affluent airport passengers at the expense of airport workers and everyday transit riders.

"We see it as Robin Hood in reverse," said Rev. Scott Denman of Genesis, which coordinates a social justice transit collaboration with faith-based organizations. Denman added that the money being proposed will go to BART customers with means who can afford an airline ticket, while general transit service continues to be cut and fares continue to rise.

"I feel like lunch money is being stolen to pay for dessert for people with full stomachs," said Denman.

Advocates also said the OAC was a boondoggle to large contractors when the region needs to maintain current critical transit service jobs. With that calculation clear in Muni riders' minds, the pressure on MTC to direct stimulus dollars to the region's transit agencies instead of to the unpopular airport connector is growing. Rescue Muni today joined the chorus of organizations opposing the OAC.

Despite the fact that Muni passengers have a great deal to lose from this decision by the MTC, the MTA Board of Directors did not mention the possibility of this stimulus funding at their meeting last week with the lengthy discussion over Muni's budget deficit. Let's hope they are pressuring the MTC behind the scenes.

East Bay advocates have been organizing in earnest and have planned a rally before the MTC Commission meeting at 9 am at MTC headquarters, 101 8th Street, Oakland.

"This is not a 'turn people out, even though we are going to lose' moment, this is a 'Grab the brass ring and win' moment," said John Knox-White of TransForm.

UPDATE 8:03 pm: The Mayor's Office released this letter from Nathaniel Ford, executive director of the MTA, indicating the agency's eagerness to spend the stimulus money if the MTC "opts to release its $70 million ARRA commitment to the OAC."

The Mayor's spokesperson, Tony Winnicker, and Ford in his letter, were very careful not to impugn the Oakland Airport Connector. "It's not in San Francisco's interest -- or any city's interest, for that matter -- to [attack a project approved by the regional governing body]." But Winnicker went on to write, "we absolutely need the funding, will put it to good use benefitting Bay Area transit riders immediately and have respectfully requested the money from the MTC."

Mayor Newsom has influence at the MTC both directly and with his appointment to the MTC, Jon Rubin. Call Newsom's office at 415-554-6141 and ask him to join us in saving Muni service and protecting civil rights. You can also email the MTC and tell them to act immediately to reprogram the $70 million in stimulus funds from the OAC to regional transit agencies.