Does Your City Need a Transit Riders Union?

By EMILY BADGER : – excerpt

They tell a favorite story within the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union about the moment when the barely two-year-old organization first began to wield real power in the city. It was 1994, and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority was preparing to raise fares and eliminate the monthly bus pass on which many low-income riders depended. The Bus Riders Union filed for a temporary restraining order against the changes. And a judge actually gave it to them.
“For us, that was the single biggest breakthrough, and we knew the entire county was not going to be seeing us in the same way again,” says Francisca Porchas, an organizer with the union today. “We were the people who had actually stopped the fare increase from going into effect.”…
With the help of the NAACP, the Bus Riders’ Union went on to sue the MTA for violating the Civil Rights Act in creating separate and unequal transit: one aging and overcrowded bus system for the city’s predominantly low-income, minority population, with newer rail investments for the region’s upper-income suburbs. The MTA ultimately signed a 10-year consent decree – doggedly monitored over the years by the Bus Riders Union – requiring substantial reinvestment in the bus system, with added hours of service, new vehicles and a new weekly bus pass…
“Even in liberal San Francisco, we have elected officials and transit officials that are really nervous to push back against the conventional wisdom of the car being really the king of the road,” Kaufman says. “Even if they are saying it rhetorically, they’re still kowtowing to their constituents who are saying ‘don’t give away my parking space for this, it isn’t worth it.’ It’s hard to think of the collective good when there’s one guy who keeps on nagging and poking you saying ‘don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this.'”
The city’s bike community is remarkably well organized, with a 13,000-member coalition and a multi-million dollar budget. Dave Snyder, who started that group, is also one of the organizers behind the transit union, and Kaufman says they hope that that group will similarly grow in influence. Today, it has about 200 members each giving $25 a year (or 10 hours in volunteering). Their biggest success to date sounds small, but it’s something: In July, the union pushed the Municipal Transportation Authority to institute all-door boarding.
The whole idea for most of these organizations isn’t just to fight for current service and fare levels (some of which are clearly financially unsustainable), but rather to build better transit systems for the long run. Elected politicians and transit officials won’t necessarily get there on their own. History is full of examples, Porchas says, of unempowered people who’ve had to organize for what they need.
“We’re in a crisis,” Kaufman says. He wasn’t referring to peak oil, but the more mundane crisis of congestion, of transportation paralysis, of a system in San Francisco where buses and trains run at 8 miles per hour, often transporting with the least efficiency the people who can least afford to sit there. “This is really the only solution. The Google self-driving car, cars that are going to run on water – those are really cool technologies. They’re exciting. But they’re not going to solve our congestion problem.”… (more)

How can cars be blamed for buses that running at 8 miles an hour that take two hours to get across town when the cars, running on the same streets, get across town in 20 to 30 minutes? The cars can’t be slowing the buses down.
What do the private shuttle buses have going for them that works better for their riders than the public system? Could it be that they serve their riders instead of the system?