The Battle for Mass Transit in Los Angeles
May 27th, 2007
I arrived at the MTA's public hearing on the MTA's fare proposal to find that the meeting room was already full to capacity. A representative from the MTA announced that as long as attendants filled out a speaker form by 10am they would be alllowed to speak for one minute. By the time I filled one out, 287 people had already done so, which I thought was great. Soon thereafter the lobby of the building became full and security stopped allowing people into the building all together. I left and returned several hours later, since I figured if most of the people before me who had signed up to speak followed through it would take at least 4 hours.
I was among a lot of people who was shut out of the proceedings, so I was unaware that the board was considering a compromise proposal that involved less drastic fare hikes. I based my public commentary on the figures that had been looming before us for more than a month; an $8 day pass and a $120 monthly pass.
I was also unaware that that morning Antonio Villaraigosa had held a press conference to propose an alternative that involved raising fares by a mere %5 annually as well as borrowing. Supposedly he had released a blueprint on Monday, which I was unaware of. Were you aware of it? It wasn't on his website. For weeks the mayor said nothing about the fare hikes. I called his office several times over the course of several weeks, inquiring as to what his position was on this matter, but could not get an answer. For a mayor that talks such an excellent game on mass transit, I found the behavior strange, even disturbing.
I stand by my charges against him. He doesn't have the balls to challenge the anti-tax philosophy of conservative anglo-saxons. It is a charge that extends to the entire political establishment. There is a dragon that dominates society, and on it's scales are written the words, "Thou shalt not raise taxes." For people who want to transform the society, the challenge is to slay that dragon.
The Los Angeles Times has been citing the following statistic: the median household income for bus riders is $12,000. Based on the cost of housing in Los Angeles, it is hard to imagine that a person who earns that much could possibly consume more than $2,000 to $3,000 in taxable products and services. For such a person, a half cent increase in the local county sales tax would represent 10 to 15 more additional dollars in taxes per year. Nearly half of the MTA's budget is already financed by %1 of the local county sales tax, and a half cent increase would logically generate a proportionate amount. After Thursday's vote, such a person will be paying at least $23 more in fares per month by July 2009.
When the most regressive tax of all, the sales tax, represents such a sheer economic benefit to the poorest people of the society, it is time to slay the dragon. The ecological catastrophe we are facing as well as the inevitable, predictable, escalation in fuel prices and the possibility of fuel shortages should motivate us to do so. Our radical dependence on the automobile as the primary mode of transportation does not make sense either from an ecological point of view or an economic point of view. According to this Yahoo article citing the Government Accountability Office, the increase in U.S. gasoline prices this year has cost consumers an extra $20 billion, or about $146 for each passenger car. Complaining, handwringing and demonizing oil companies is pointless. The solution to the gasoline crisis is to increase the gasoline tax and fund mass transit. This can be done on the local, state and/or federal level.
For anti-tax people who may believe in their right to consume gasoline gratuitously, I suggest that they join the armed forces and enlist to fight in Iraq to secure oil resources. This Memorial Day, let us acknowledge the real reason why our soldiers are occupying a foreign country.
Before Thursday's fare hikes, Los Angeles had a mediocre mass transit system. After Thursday's fare hikes, Los Angeles continues to have a mediocre mass transit system. The only way to vastly improve it is through additional revenue through tax increases.
I plan on buying a car soon. I will be happy to pay $4.00 for a gallon of gasoline. How much better the society would be from an ecological, economic, and cultural perspective if people could live their lives to the fullest, as they can in other industrialized societies, without the necessity of owning a car. Unfortunately, there are too many irrational people in our society, and too many people who don't have the balls to challenge these people, and yet other people who are oblivious.