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Some Riders Say Fare Hike Is Anything but Fair : Transportation: The planned increase could hinder the estimated 475,000 people who ride the bus daily in the metropolitan area.

October 02, 1994|By EFRAIN HERNANDEZ JR. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

By 5:45 a.m., Pearl Daniels is waiting for bus No. 206 at Normandie Avenue and 6th Street so she can head to work in West Hollywood.

For Daniels, 60, the daily routine includes a transfer to another bus at Normandie Avenue and Sunset Boulevard so that she can get to her job as a telephone operator at the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset by 7 a.m. When she gets off work at 3 p.m., Daniels hustles across the boulevard to catch the No. 3 bus and begin her hourlong ride back home.

For years, buses have meant as much to Daniels as do cars to the throngs of solo motorists who clog the Southern California freeways each rush hour. But these days her reliance on public transit has Daniels so fearful of a proposed 25-cent bus fare hike and the possible elimination of monthly bus passes that she rarely spends money riding a bus for anything other than work.

"If I can help it, I don't go out," said Daniels, who lives on Ardmore Avenue in Koreatown. "I don't hop on the bus like I used to. "

Throughout Los Angeles, remarks from people whose livelihoods depend almost entirely on buses show that Daniels is far from alone. Several riders, of whom transit officials say there are an estimated 475,000 daily in the metropolitan area, said they are on edge because their lives would become significantly more difficult under the proposed hike by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which calls for one-way fares to increase from $1.10 to $1.35.

While the fare hike issue is still in legal limbo, it has raised fears that the higher fares may cause some poor residents to miss medical appointments, cut back on grocery shopping, jeopardize job opportunities or become reclusive. The fears already have manifested themselves in cries of protest at MTA meetings from advocates for the poor and even resulted in a hunger strike that left two men seriously ill during the summer before it was called off.

Advocates for riders emphasize that about six in 10 regular riders have household incomes of less than $15,000 a year, and therefore any increase would prove a financial burden on the majority of riders. Most riders board buses more than once each day, resulting in a total of nearly 1.2 million boardings daily.

MTA officials, meanwhile, are trying to convince anyone who will listen that the authority's first bus fare hike in six years is essential to combat a $126-million operating deficit that if left unaddressed is bound to result in service problems down the road. Besides, they say, tokens would remain available to bus riders at 90 cents each.

All sides are anxiously awaiting a decision by U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. on whether the fare hike would unfairly burden poor and minority residents, who make up the vast majority of bus riders. A hearing is scheduled Oct. 17 on whether a trial should be held on a lawsuit accusing the MTA of discrimination in pushing for the fare hike.

Undoubtedly, many poor and minority residents in Los Angeles already are convinced they are being taken advantage of regardless of Hatter's ruling. Lawsuits and spreadsheets aside, many riders believe they will bear the brunt of whatever decision is made.

Daniels, waiting for a bus home from work near social hot spots such as The Comedy Store and House of Blues, said she thought the impact of the bus fare issue would be better understood if officials paid attention to the problems riders face each day. Indeed, the faces of those who depend on public transportation can be forgettable for those who zip past bus stops in cars. One moment, you see people waiting, then the stoplight changes from red to green and you are gone.

It is easy to forget the tired elderly woman who sits on a bench in South-Central surrounded by plastic shopping bags, one or two of them serving as pillows for the young boy with her. There is no way to know without asking that the young mother who is waiting for a bus with her infant is trying to get to a baby-sitter and then to her job as a seamstress Downtown. The serious, middle-aged man standing in the shade is heading for a medical appointment.

And once on a bus, riders can lose virtually all individuality. For many, it is the vehicle that people normally focus on from outside, not the riders.

Several bus riders attributed what they say is second-class treatment of riders to the notion that individual car ownership is an ingrained part of the Los Angeles culture. In other words, there must be something wrong with you if you do not own your own car and must ride a bus.

Right now, Daniels said, there are probably many riders who feel worried or trapped and are saving every quarter for their most important rides.

"That's the way I feel. You can't get out when you want to," Daniels said. "They isolated me a lot already."

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