Bus Riders Union (Los Angeles)
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The Bus Riders Union (BRU) (also called Sindicato de Pasajeros (SDP) and 버스 승객 조합 (버승조)) is a United States grassroots civil rights social movement organization established in Los Angeles, California in 1994. Led by a planning committee, its multilingual membership is drawn from the predominantly low-income, African-American, Latino and Asian mass transit ridership of Los Angeles County. The BRU's central concern has been racial discrimination in the policies of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA). The BRU attracted international attention when it successfully sued LACMTA under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act in 1994 and its example has inspired similar efforts to organize mass transit passengers.
The Bus Rider's Union is a project of the Labor/Community Strategy Center (LCSC) that began as an outgrowth of the LCSC's Labor/Community Watchdog environmental justice campaign against air pollution in the L.A. Port area. The LCSC began organizing bus riders in 1992 and, as it expanded its tactics from grassroots organizing to include legal action, it built "across geographic and ethnic lines" to bring together "a multiethnic, progressive coalition." In 1996, it filed a civil rights lawsuit in association with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates against the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, alleging that the LACMTA was using federal funds for public transit in a discriminatory manner.
A feature-length documentary titled Bus Riders Union (2000) directed by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, captures the early years of organizing through to the signing of the consent decree.
Civil Rights Consent Decree, 1996-2006
Represented by Constance Rice and others from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, LCSC, BRU, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates were able first to obtain an injunction preventing LACMTA from eliminating the monthly pass in 1994. In 1996 after a high-profile media and grassroots campaign against LACMTA's policies of "transit racism," LCSC, BRU et al. agreed to sign with LACMTA a Title VI consent decree.
The plaintiffs argued that LACMTA was using disproportionately more of its federal funds on the suburban-oriented rail service and its wealthier, whiter ridership, at the same time as it was spending disproportionately less on the bus system and its much larger, lower-income ridership, predominantly made up of people of color. Martin Wachs and Richard Berk of UCLA, and James Moore II of USC were among the professors of transportation, planning and statistics who provided expert reports and other assistance to the plaintiffs. The former chief financial officer of LACMTA's predecessor agency, Thomas Rubin, also provided key assistance to the plaintiffs. LACMTA agreed to settle the case on the eve of the trial, "when it faced extensive public disclosure and media coverage of its discriminatory, inefficient, and environmentally destructive transportation policies."
The consent decree required LACMTA to
- retain the unlimited monthly-use pass and reduce it from $49 to $42; reduce the biweekly pass from $26.50 to $21; and to create a new weekly pass for $11
- purchase 102 buses to ease existing overcrowding on the buses
- commit to reducing overcrowding levels by specified goals and specified times, working under a court-appointed Special Master with BRU in a Joint Working Group over the life of the decree
- create new bus services designed to connect people of color and the poor to job and medical sites.
LACMTA strenuously resisted complying with the overcrowding reduction requirements of the consent decree. Over the course of the decree, it appealed rulings based on the consent decree numerous times, including a final appeal that it took to the Supreme Court, which was rejected in March 2002.
Because of LACMTA's resistance to complying with the decree, BRU et al. filed an appeal to extend the consent decree before it was to expire on Sunday October 29, 2006. The appeal was rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009.
The consent decree has been a controversial subject in local news media. Over the course of the decree, local columnists and news outlet OpEds have taken positions for and against the decree and various rulings associated with it.
Recently, the BRU has branched out into other civil rights issues. The BRU was one of the sponsors of the Great American Boycott demonstration in Los Angeles on May 1, 2006. The current campaign is "1,000 More Buses, 1,000 Less Police", as the BRU is advocating that policing be reduced throughout the city because of past abuses by the Los Angeles Police Department of minority civil rights.
The Bus Riders Union strongly opposed the fare increases that were proposed in 2007. While the turnout of members at the hearing was impressive, the strategy of having as their chief demand a fare decrease was ineffectual. The BRU has since taken credit for highlighting equity issues in the debate over bus fares, but has offered no substantive solutions for the underlying problem of inadequate transit funding.
The LCSC has launched a Center for Transportation Strategies intended to expand its involvement with regional and national transportation issues as an outgrowth of a 2005 conference attended by activists from around the U.S.
Criticism of the BRU points to the high use of some LACMTA rail lines among minorities to argue that the BRU legal case and its assertion of racism has no basis. Critics also take issue with the BRU’s rhetorical or political style, contending that BRU organizers are overly combative and ideological. An additional line of criticism draws from modal debates in the field of urban transit planning, asserting that rail should hold a higher priority than the bus, or that the BRU’s overemphasis on one mode is counterproductive.
In addition, criticism has centered on the BRU's non-bus related civil rights activities. A columnist in the Jewish Journal criticized the BRU for publishing flyers comparing the situation of Palestinians to those of Jews in Nazi Germany, and questioned the BRU taking funds from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, a foundation "formed in the Jewish tradition".
- Sterngold, James (September 16, 2001). "A Los Angeles Commuter Group Sees Discrimination in Transit Policies". New York Times.
- Wood, Daniel B. (July 21, 1997). "Urban Buses Host a Struggle for Equity". Christian Science Monitor.
- Claiborne, William (February 23, 1997). "The Work-in-Progress L.A. Subway Might Be at the End of the Line; City's Mass Transit Future Embroiled in Political, Financial Uncertainty". Washington Post.
- Cornwell, Tim (October 17, 1999). "People Power Gets Aboard LA Buses". The Independent (London).
- Campbell, Duncan (October 5, 1999). "LA judge backs bus passenger power". The Guardian (London).
- Novotny, Patrick (2000). Where we live, work, and play: the environmental justice movement and the struggle for a new environmentalism. Greenwood. pp. 65–69.
- Marks, Mara A.; Elizabeth Gearin, Carol S. Armstrong (2004). Jennifer R. Wolch et al., ed. Up Against the Sprawl: public policy and the making of Southern California. U of Minnesota P. pp. 357–9.
- Lucas, Karen (2004). "The MTA Consent Decree". Running on empty: transport, social exclusion and environmental justice. Policy P. pp. 220–242.
- Marks, 2004. 358-9.
- McCarthy, Todd (April 2, 2000). "Bus Riders Union". Variety. Retrieved April 13, 2011.
- Marks, 2004. Lucas, 2004.
- As of July 2007, 17% of LACMTA's rail riders were white classified as white non-Hispanics. In contrast, only 10% of bus riders were classified as white non-Hispanics. As of September 2008, 40% of Metrolink riders were classified as not being "ethnic".
- Lucas, 2004. p233
- Lucas, 2004. p233
- Streeter, Kurt (March 19, 2002). "Final MTA Appeal of Bus Accord Fails". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 13, 2011.
- Mascaro, Lisa (April 25, 2005). "MTA Consent Decree Drives Different Reactions in L.A.". The Daily News of Los Angeles.
- Haefele, Marc B. (February 5, 1999). "Let the Sunshine In". LA Weekly. Retrieved April 14, 2011.
- Stanger, Richard (June 11, 1999). "Commentary: No One Wins When Its Bus Vs Rail". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 14, 2011.
- "The Clenched Fist". Los Angeles Times. November 5, 2000. Retrieved April 14, 2011.
- Berkowitz, Eric (August 19, 2005). "The Subway Mayor". LA Weekly. Retrieved April 14, 2011.
- Haefele, Marc B. (July 21, 2000). "What Reactionaries". LA Weekly.
- See Stanger
- Official Bus Riders Union site