Union's position all out of gas

Op-ed article, Daily News, July 18, 2007

The longer I watch the ongoing drama which is the fight between the Bus Riders Union and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the less I understand why the former keeps at it.

In fact, the union's latest attempt to assert control over Metro -- bringing a lawsuit to block the fare increase which just took effect -- leaves me wondering if it needs a new supply of clues in its penthouse office across the street from the Wilshire/Western subway station.

To sue under a law that gives transit agencies the specific right to raise fares to cover operating costs, then claim (without proof) that Metro isn't using the fare revenue for that purpose, appears to me to be grasping at the flimsiest of straws.

What makes the BRU's argument even more puzzling is that Metro was unable to raise fares for most of the previous decade, due to a provision in the now-famous (and thankfully expired) consent decree that the BRU waved in everyone's face during that decade. Anyone can see that, had Metro been able to implement gradual increases over the 10 years of the consent decree, no one would be subjected to the larger increases that are going to happen now. Anyone, that is, except the BRU, which apparently has discovered a world where inflation doesn't exist.

Yes, it is unfortunate and sad that low-income families -- who indeed make up a large portion of the transit-dependent population -- will have to pay more to ride. But they also have had a break during all those years when the fares couldn't go up to help cover the costs of the increased service the BRU demanded. Apparently, when you operate under the banner of "social justice" nothing you advocate has a price tag, and the budget deficit you help create can instead be called a "Metro-invented crisis."

As an experiment, I took the $42 monthly pass that existed from 1988 to 2005 (and therefore was in effect when the BRU's original lawsuit resulted in the consent decree) and adjusted for inflation. That $42 equates to $71.85 in 2006 dollars, and the new Metro monthly pass price is $62. Seems to me that monthly pass is still a bargain, but on the other hand I paid $3 for a half-gallon of milk last week which, in the BRU's no-inflation world, should cost no more than the $1.75 it cost in 1988.

If the BRU really wants to help the low-income, transit-dependent population, it would be better advised to channel its abilities to take the folks who wear yellow shirts and chant at rallies to Sacramento, and fight for increased state funding that can be used to operate service. I spend a fair amount of time in our state Capitol lobbying for exactly that, and I have yet to see BRU members in those hallowed halls.

And that is the real shame, because with their claimed membership numbers, they could have a significant impact if they chose to take that advice, instead of concentrating on activity that attracts television cameras and results in newspaper headlines.

(Note: This was my first Daily Newsarticle to run with a byline of "Guest Columnist".)

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