An angry group of bus riders blasted Los Angeles County transportation officials at a public hearing Saturday for considering fare increases, calling the proposed move unfair to the poor.
Throughout the hearing, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's board was loudly heckled by a group of about 150 members of the Bus Riders Union. They called the MTA racist and at one point loudly chanted at the board: "Shame! Shame! Shame!"
Only seven of the 13 board members showed up for the hearing, the only public meeting focused on a move that could affect more than 1 million county residents. None of the board members commented during the hearing.
If a motion to restructure fares is passed by the board next month, the MTA would raise the cost of weekly, semiweekly and monthly fares by $10. A monthly pass would cost $52. The move would lower the daily one-way cash fare for buses and trains by 10 cents, to $1.25.
Also considered is the replacement of tokens and transfers with a $3 daily pass allowing unlimited trips. That would raise the price of trips for many riders who transfer only once.
Bus Riders Union leader Eric Mann said most bus riders would be hurt by the changes, since most rely on transfers, tokens and passes and most make minimum wage or less.
The agency's buses carry about 1.2 million people per weekday. MTA studies show the median income for bus riders, the majority of whom are Latino, is $12,000 a year.
Bus rider advocates also questioned why the MTA is spending millions on its rail system at the same time it is considering changes that could hurt bus service. MTA surveys suggest the fare changes could lead to an initial drop in ridership of about 3%, though officials believe the ridership would rise as people got used to the new fares.
Some bus rider advocates added that the proposal is misguided, since the MTA has failed to reach standards for overcrowding set out in a federal agreement that calls on the agency to improve bus service.
As part of that agreement, a federal mediator recently ordered the MTA to put 125 more buses into service in an effort to reduce the average number of standees on buses to as low as eight.
The agreement, signed in 1996, has allowed the MTA to increase fares if needed. The agency has declined to do so until now.
MTA officials, faced with a budget shortfall projected at $1.4 billion in 10 years, say the changes will help lower the agency's subsidy per rider.
Officials also argue that transit agencies across the nation are making similar changes. New York's transit system recently raised its one-way fare from $1.50 to $2 and will eliminate tokens by May.