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PICO-UNION : Youths Make Case for Better Bus Service

August 15, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

A group of 20 youths in Pico-Union and South-Central Los Angeles, armed with a busload of complaints about the city's public transportation system, are taking a direct route to make sure their message is heard.

The group's name underscores its task: United to Improve Transportation in Pico-Union, or Unidos Para Mejorar El Tranporte de Pico-Union.

Members have prepared a flyer calling for better bus service in Pico-Union, where a large number of residents use public transportation.

"We demand more buses so they can run more often and be less crowded," the flyer said. "We want the buses to be cleaner, safer and non-polluting. We also demand that the bus stops are well-lit and attractive, and we don't want the bus fares to be raised."

The youths, who worked at El Rescate legal clinic in a city-funded summer jobs program, were organized last month with the help of El Rescate staff and other community groups.

By last week, they had distributed 7,000 flyers inviting people to talk about their bus service complaints at a community forum scheduled for last Saturday.

The group wants the Metropolitan Transit Authority "to see that buses are very important to people around here," said group member Brenda Cabrera, 15. "The subway is not going to help us. It's going to serve the San Fernando Valley. How are we supposed to get where we want to go?"

Members of the group say that the MTA's budget is skewed toward supporting the rail system.

A statement released by the group says such an emphasis on rail service comes "at the expense of improvements to the bus system, which serves the inner-city areas where people most depend on public transportation. We believe that the MTA's priorities should reflect the needs of the people who need it the most."

Marvin Holen, a member of the MTA's Board of Directors, said the group's enthusiasm and personal testimony make them effective lobbyists.

"The allocation of resources is always a political balancing act," said Holen, a proponent of improved bus service. "When young people express themselves strongly, they increase the chances of money being allocated for buses. Their impact is far beyond what they might imagine it to be."

For group member Cesar Ochoa, 17, who addressed a recent MTA board meeting, the issue is as much personal as it is political. "I take the bus all the time, so it affects me very much," Ochoa said. "I spend at least an hour a day on the bus and I always see robberies, fighting and taggers."

Lilian Sosa, 17, said, "Sometimes you have to wait 30 minutes for a bus and it just passes you by," she said. "And when you ride the buses, sometimes there's no air-conditioning, they're overcrowded and the smell of spray paint is really strong."

The youths meet every day at El Rescate to discuss what needs to be done, including painting banners, making information packets and telephoning community residents to drum up support. They also do other office and maintenance work as participants in the city's summer jobs program.

"Some of them are natural organizers," said Susan Kandel, one of the coordinators of the group at El Rescate. "They started their own recycling program, collecting cans and newspapers to raise money for their work."

Kandel said some of the group members plan to continue their crusade even after school resumes at the end of the summer, and they hope to recruit some adults to join them. A follow-up meeting to last week's community forum is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at El Rescate, 1340 S. Bonnie Brae St.

"The MTA told us our demands could be met," Ochoa said. "All we have to do is keep fighting for them."

Information: (213) 387-3284.

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