Cincinnati’s bus system, Metro, is facing budget cuts. A lot is out there right now about this, but there are threats of route cuts, reductions, layoffs, fare increases, and any number of other awfulnesses which threaten to cripple the already mediocre single public transit option in the city. This, amongst talks of adding a streetcar with, seemingly, the best outcome being gentrification and business development in downtown and Over-the-Rhine.
The BRU/SDP was initiated in 1992 as the Strategy Center’s Transportation Policy Group and soon began organizing bus riders in the “Billions for Buses” campaign to confront and defeat the transit racism reflected in the policies of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). In 1994, the BRU led popular protests against a massive fare hike and obtained a temporary restraining order to stop the MTA in its tracks. The BRU then sued the MTA for violating the civil rights of transit dependent bus riders.
In 1994, the Labor/Community Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union, along with the Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates and Southern Christian Leadership Conference, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, brought suit against the Los Angeles MTA, charging them with violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibits government agencies that receive any federal funds from distributing those funds in a racially discriminatory manner. The Strategy Center, BRU, and NAACP LDF charged the MTA with establishing a separate and unequal mass transit system-a dilapidated, overcrowded bus system for 400,000 overwhelmingly Latino, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islander bus riders (at that time, estimated at 81% people of color, but on most of the worst inner-city lines it was essentially 100% people of color).
When the MTA signed the civil rights Consent Decree in late 1996, the BRU took up a formidable obligation-to represent the civil rights of 400,000 daily bus riders in Los Angeles County-88% of whom are, more than 50% of whom have annual family incomes under $12,000 and 57% of whom are women.
Since then, we have written a new chapter in the civil rights and environmental justice movement: a grassroots group wins a well-known civil rights suit, but then has the guts and commitment to enforce its provisions for a decade to build a clean-fuel, world-class mass transportation system in the most air polluted and auto-dominated city in the U.S.
I’m just saying. The similarities could be eerie. And, when we consider the streetcar, perhaps we should look less at the success story of Portland, and look, instead, at the failures of LA.
I’ve been an exclusive bus rider for a year, and I cannot stomach or live on any less service than they currently provide. And I am not the only one.