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BUS RIDERS BEAT MTA ON FARES, SERVICE : AGENCY TO INCREASE FLEET, FREEZE RATES.

Byline: David Bloom Daily News Staff Writer

MTA bus fares will be frozen for two years, the price of monthly passes will be rolled back for three years, and more than 152 buses will be added to the fleet under a consent decree approved Monday by a federal judge.

The settlement ends a 1994 lawsuit filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and others that charged the Metropolitan Transportation Authority with violating the civil rights of transit-dependent passengers - mostly inner-city minorities - by spending lavishly on suburban rail systems at the expense of the bus system.

The 10-year agreement, approved by U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr., creates a working group of MTA officials and representatives of bus rider groups to oversee implementation of the agreement and the regulations of fares.

It also appoints a ``special master'' to help resolve disputes as the MTA moved to increase the bus fleet and improve security on buses, reduce crowding and target transit-dependent riders for more help.

``It's a very good settlement, for the plaintiffs and the MTA,'' said Ken Klein, a private attorney representing the MTA.

Hatter called the deal ``a very meaningful settlement in this case.'' It will take effect Dec. 1, attorneys said.

``It's the beginning of a partnership,'' said Constance Rice, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The suit was triggered by an MTA proposal in 1994 to increase fares from $1.10 to $1.35 and to eliminate its $42 monthly bus pass to help balance its budget. The agency also had wanted to double transfer charges to 50 cents, and impose higher charges for longer rides on the Metro Blue Line.

The suit froze all that, though the two sides agreed to an interim fare increase the following winter that allowed the cash fare to rise to $1.35 and the bus pass price to go to $49 temporarily.

Although they celebrated the deal, bus rider advocates got far less than they had sought originally.

The Bus Riders Union and Labor/Community Strategy Center had been pushing a program called ``Billions for Buses,'' that included a doubling of the bus fleet and a cut in the bus pass cost to $36.

Eric Mann, executive director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, acknowledged that the group didn't get everything it wanted by a long way, but had received significant improvements to the bus system, protections from ``arbitrary fare increases'' for three years and a decision-making process in which the group's opinions are included.

``Both sides see this as an opportunity to move forward,'' said Donald T. Bliss, the mediator who helped the two sides produce the agreement. ``I think this will be a very constructive force for improvement.''

Bliss will continue to function as a ``special master'' representing Hatter in trying to resolve disputes that aren't solved between the sides over the next decade.

Under the system set up by the decree, any changes to bus fares or service must be approved by the working group. If the group can't decide an issue, it then will be taken up by attorneys for both sides, and if still unresolved, it will go to the special master. Bliss' decisions can be appealed to Hatter.

The case was filed in August 1994 to block MTA plans to raise fares, cut service and eliminate monthly bus passes. The suit charged that the civil rights of MTA's 1 million daily bus riders were being violated.

Provisions of the settlement include:

Freeze bus fares at the current level of $1.35 for cash, or 90 cents for a token for two years.

Fifty-one new buses by the end of 1996, and another 51 new buses by June 1997. That would add about 5 percent to the existing 2,000-bus fleet. The agency also would add 50 buses within two years to help transit-dependent riders get to hospitals, employment centers and vocational schools.

The agency also committed to halve bus overcrowding by 2002, probably by adding even more buses, and to add more security on buses. Some buses now run 40 percent above capacity during rush hour.

A rollback in monthly pass prices, from $49 to $42, for three years. The MTA also would start selling $21 half-month passes and $11 weekly bus passes.

Bus lines that are heavily used by the transit-dependent would start offering discounted 75-cent fares for nonrush-hour use for the first time.

Other kinds of passes - for students, handicapped and the elderly - and cash, token and transfer charges would remain at current levels for at least two years.

The lone point of contention presented to Hatter during Monday's hearing was a provision that would allow the MTA to limit sales of monthly passes to only the poor. The issue was left unresolved and will be sent to the joint working group.

``Now we can celebrate,'' said Eric Mann, executive director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center. Mann's group was a plaintiff in the case and was concerned that the eligibility test for access to the bus pass would stigmatize the poor. The clarifications offered Monday ensured that there would be no problems, Mann said.

``We have the protection we came here for, so riders won't face arbitrary new fares,'' Mann said.

Only a few Valley lines will be immediately affected by the bus system enhancements, said Steven Brown, the MTA's manager of bus system improvement planning.

But he said a number of others likely also will get additional buses, or be added to the lines with off-peak 75-cent fares in the coming months.

The agency plans to create a limited-stop line running along San Fernando Road from the Sylmar Metrolink station to downtown Los Angeles, Brown said.

Existing bus lines 90-91 from Sunland through Glendale to downtown Los Angeles, 152 from the West Valley to Burbank along Burbank Avenue, and 163 running along Sherman Way and Hollywood Way also will have additional buses added beginning Dec. 15, to reduce crowding, Brown said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 29, 1996
Words:997
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