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Bus Fare Blues

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ANOTHER QUARTER, please.” The bus driver was glaring at me and my 17-month-old son as I fumbled for an additional quarter. My fingers clawed their way into the dark recesses of my backpack. Brushes, crumpled receipts, paper clips, pens, old address books intertwined with new address books, erasers, old watch bands, and … oh, ahhh, could it be true? A quarter? Clutching the sliver of metal, my fingers climbed back up through a hidden passage of Mt. Backpack. But alas, it was just a nickel. “Would a nickel be OK? It’s all I have right now?” I plead.

“No, it’s $1.25; you can get off at the next stop.”

Since I started school in January, I’ve been taking Muni more than usual, and a bus pass was too rich for my meager, working-poor single-parent budget, so every week I begged, borrowed, or stole my way onto San Francisco’s main transportation system.

Until now.

The Municipal Transportation Authority is proposing a rate hike to $1.50 a ride to offset its $24 million budget deficit. This fare increase would make it almost impossible for very-low-income folks like me to ride the bus at all. And considering that we make up the majority of bus riders, I have to ask: Who is the MTA targeting for these rate hikes?

Yes, it’s true that in San Francisco, conscious, privileged people with homes and high-paying jobs ride the bus because they want to—after all, it’s better for the environment—but so do poor immigrants, fixed-income elders, youths, poor workers, and disabled and houseless folks. We all have different reasons, but we all ride.

“All services are hurting because of California’s budget” was MTA’s statement about the 2003 Muni rate hikes from $1 to $1.25. At that time Muni cited the fact that the system needed to offset a then-$55 million deficit.

Of course, all public services in California are facing budget deficits—but let’s take a moment to connect the dots, or rather, the corporate welfare recipients. We could start with Enron, which stole all of California’s surplus with its fake energy crisis, and the Governator, who didn’t go after Enron for that stolen revenue (he also owns interests in energy stocks) and who decided owners of expensive cars like his Hummer needed to pay less taxes, which took a major local revenue source away from desperately needy city budgets.

Corporate-esque MTA board members like Ted Tedesco, previously with American Airlines, and bank executive Thomas O’Bryant are voting against their own best interests when they make public transportation increasingly costly for poor workers. Cheap transportation enables the urban/suburban apartheid they rely on to get through their daily lives. If it weren’t for cheap public transit, the poor service workers like maids and dishwashers couldn’t get from the poor areas of the city to the wealthy neighborhoods across town, where people like those MTA board members reside.

Last week a new coalition representing some of the poorest citizens of San Francisco presented its own “Platform for Transit Justice” to the MTA, declaring public transportation to be a human right.

The coalition believes that as a transit-first city, San Francisco should encourage use of public transit instead of cars and proposes a variety of revenue-raising measures that would eliminate the deficit.

As the Muni bus doors close on me and my son with an extra wumph, I consider illicitly entering through the back door of the next bus without paying the fare. Then I remember that when they hiked the rates in 2003, they also jacked up the issuing of tickets to people trying to ride without paying the fare-criminalizing the poor while targeting the poor. Without options, I gather our stuff and we begin the long walk home.

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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