Oakland City Council Urges An End To MTC Discrimination Against AC Transit Bus Riders

By: Public Advocates
Date: November 2, 2005

Press Release: November 2, 2005

Oakland City Council Urges An End To MTC Discrimination Against AC Transit Bus Riders

Oakland, CA — Just a week after the death of civil rights activist Rosa Parks—whose refusal to submit to second-class treatment in public transportation service sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott 50 years ago in December—the Oakland City Council last night unanimously approved a resolution calling for equitable funding of East Bay transit.

The resolution, authored by Councilmember Nancy Nadel, notes that funding decisions by the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) have left AC Transit bus riders with lower per-passenger subsidies, and lower levels of service, than predominantly white riders of Caltrain and BART. It also notes that AC Transit’s "Strategic Vision" plan calls for implementing many service improvements, subject to receiving adequate funding from MTC.

The resolution notes that 80% of AC Transit bus riders are people of color. In Montgomery, Alabama, the ridership of bus system Rosa Parks used was 75% African-American. "Oakland is now on record asking MTC to bring fairness and equity to AC Transit riders," said Councilwoman Nadel. "I’m gratified that every one of my colleagues on the City Council agrees that MTC needs to do a better job of seeking and securing more funding for bus riders who need the same assurances to get to work, school and play as those who travel BART and Caltrain."

"In the spirit of Rosa Parks, this resolution will advance our struggle for an equitable transit system for low-income people of color in Oakland," said A.J. Napolis, Northern California program director for Communities for a Better Environment, an environmental justice

"The Bay Area has two ‘separate and unequal’ transit systems: an expanding state-of-the-art rail system, Caltrain and BART, for predominantly white, relatively affluent communities and a shrinking bus system, AC Transit, for low-income people of color," explained Christine Zook, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, a labor union that has many members who use or depend on AC Transit for their transportation needs.

ATU Local 192, along with Communities for a Better Environment, an environmental justice organization, and several individual bus riders, brought a federal civil rights lawsuit against MTC in April, asserting that MTC discriminates in the funding of public transit systems. The lawsuit was filed April 19 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. A trial date has not yet
been set.

One of the bus riders who joined that suit is Sylvia Darensburg. "Service has gotten worse and worse for years," Darensburg complained. "Buses used to run like clockwork. Now, I have to ride two or three buses to get to work, and I’ve had to turn down jobs I’ve been offered because I just can’t get there. Even something as simple as shopping for fresh groceries on my way home from college classes requires me to take three buses, with long waits in between."

Many elected officials have raised their voices against funding discrimination by MTC against bus riders. A letter authored in September by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, and co-signed by California State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee and George Miller, Alameda Country Supervisor Keith Carson, and others, urges MTC "to make use
of its extensive authority … to ensure that each transit passenger, regardless of income or ethnicity, receives an equitable subsidy of public dollars and equal access to vital transit services."

In an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle last June, Rep. Lee asserted that, "[f]ifty years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, mass-transit bus service unfortunately remains a symbol of inequality in our society."

The Oakland resolution requests that MTC allocate public funds for transit equitably. The Berkeley City Council unanimously adopted a similar resolution in July.

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