The Bus Riders Union said Thursday that it will urge the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's bus and rail passengers to stage a fare strike next week to protest the agency's plan to increase the cost of public transit.
The fare strike is the latest in a series of actions in response to the MTA's proposed increases in the prices of basic fares, discount tokens and popular monthly, semimonthly and weekly passes, as well as the passes used by senior citizens, students and the disabled.
The MTA board will hold a public hearing on the fare increases Saturday, though the directors have already adopted a $2.5-billion budget that includes income from the higher fares.
Strike organizer Rita Burgos said the Bus Riders Union is demanding that the MTA lower fares and abide by a court-appointed special master's order to buy 481 buses to reduce overcrowding. "They know full good and well that any fare increase for the transit-dependent discourages ridership," she said.
The transit agency recorded its highest ridership ever--1.6 million boardings on weekdays--in the early 1980s, when the cash fare was lowered to 50 cents after Los Angeles County voters approved the first of two transit sales taxes.
As fares have increased over the years, MTA ridership has dropped sharply to the current level of 1.1 million boardings on weekdays despite the addition of the subway and two light-rail lines.
Burgos said the October 1996 consent decree that requires the MTA to improve bus service is "a set of interrelated promises." She argued that the MTA board cannot pick and choose which parts of the agreement it wants to follow and which it does not. The agency is challenging the decree in court.
The agreement signed by the MTA and bus rider advocates does allow the MTA to raise fares periodically to keep pace with increases in Los Angeles consumer prices.
MTA Chief Executive Julian Burke proposed an increase in cash fares last year, but abandoned the plan in the face of opposition and the poor condition of the bus fleet.
The first opportunity the MTA has to increase the price of bus passes is Nov. 1.
MTA spokesman Marc Littman said the agency needs the fare increase--the first in four years--to cover higher operating costs for its buses and trains. "We held off last year because the bus system wasn't up to par," he said. But "the service is steadily improving" with more buses on the street and customer complaints falling for nine months.
The transit agency wants to raise the cash fare by a dime to $1.45 and the cost of discount tokens by a nickel to 95 cents. The monthly pass would increase by $3 to $45, the semimonthly pass by $1 to $22, and the weekly pass by $1 to $12.
The price of a pass for senior citizens and the disabled would increase $1 to $13. Passes for students in grades K-12 would rise $1 to $21. The cost of passes for college or vocational school students would go up $2 to $32.
As for the fare strike, Littman said refusing to pay is illegal. Violators can be cited and fined up to $250.