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Bus and Blue Line Fare Increases Kept on Hold : Transit: Federal judge again prohibits hikes and retains monthly passes pending MTA's appeal to 9th Circuit Court.

October 18, 1994|RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fares on Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses and the Blue Line trolley will remain at $1.10, at least temporarily, as a federal judge Monday set a hearing for later this month on a suit alleging that a fare hike would disproportionately affect poor and minority bus riders.

U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. effectively left intact a court order he issued last month prohibiting the MTA from increasing the fare on buses to $1.35 and on the Blue Line trolley between Los Angeles and Long Beach to $2.35. The MTA was also barred from eliminating popular monthly passes.

After a five-minute hearing, Hatter ruled that he was "without jurisdiction" to modify his court order while the MTA is appealing the fare rollbacks to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hatter, however, set an Oct. 27 hearing on the larger question of whether the MTA is discriminating against poor and minority bus riders to fund rail lines that mostly benefit affluent white commuters. The future of the fare hike rests on that decision.

After Monday's hearing, MTA Chief Executive Officer Franklin E. White said he was disappointed that the judge did not act on the agency's request to lift the injunction.

"The dragging out of this matter is costing us $110,000 a day," White said. "Even if we win, we're going to lose."

But Martin Hernandez, an organizer for the Labor/Community Strategy Center, the lead plaintiff in the case, said the transit agency has an alternative to fare increases and reductions in bus service.

Referring to the millions of dollars MTA has allocated to extend the Blue Line to Pasadena, he said, "Let's not start building something that we don't have money for."

MTA officials contend that the first fare hike in six years was not only in line with price increases for other goods and services but was a "reasonable and necessary business decision," required to close a $126-million budget deficit this year.

The plaintiffs' attorneys, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, argued in court papers that any financial harm to the MTA caused from delaying the fare increase "pales in comparison to the human suffering" that poor and minority bus riders would endure under a fare increase.

The plaintiffs cited a single mother with an annual income of $9,500 who would pay 63% more to ride the bus if the $42 monthly bus passes are eliminated.

MTA lawyers argued that the consequences could be worse if the fare increase is further delayed.

"If MTA is not allowed to collect the fares . . . even if the court concludes that there had been no civil rights violation, the moneys that could have balanced the budget will be forever gone and drastic service cuts will be imperative," MTA attorneys say in court papers.

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