Drivers, Riders Unite vs. Service Cuts, Fare Hikes

SAN FRANCISCO-OAKLAND BAY AREA, April 9 — “I really don’t have a problem raising the price of the youth pass.” These were the words of one of the AC Transit Board of Directors last month, as they discussed a range of plans to raise bus fares. How insulting! These are the bus passes that kids need to get to school!

The bus already costs $2 a ride, plus 25 cents for a 1-use transfer. On top of that, service was cut 15 percent in 2010, stranding many passengers and leading to longer waits and crowded buses. Where else but public transit can you get away with charging much more for less and worse service?

Several transit activists and transit workers attended the meeting and spoke out against the proposed fare increases: “You say there’s no money. Why don’t you go talk to Chevron?” said one speaker. Another commented, “It’s ironic that you talk about honoring Rosa Parks with a poster — if Rosa Parks were here, she would be disgusted by these proposals. It’s not about whether you sit in the front or back of the bus, but about whether there’s even a bus at all to catch!” These fare increases will have a racist and anti-working class effect as they hit our riders who are around 70% low income.

Unfortunately, there were very few in attendance (perhaps 15 passengers and nine transit workers). It will take much, much more pressure to slow down these major attacks on the ridership. Our union leadership says they are in favor of this type of activism, but they didn’t even put out a memo to the members, letting them know about this board meeting!

For those of us who did organize for the meeting, it was a positive start. Two drivers spoke at the union meeting, and passed out flyers at work for about five hours during the week. We also called around 15 drivers and texted about 50; this resulted in four drivers coming with us to the meeting.

Despite the fact that we just suffered a disastrous arbitration and currently pay back 6% of our check every week, many drivers are still hesitant to see themselves as activists. There was much more interest at the union meeting around the issue of whether to hold a special election for a new union president or to wait eight months for the scheduled election. Most drivers believe that the key is having a good leader (a “fighter,” someone “knowledgeable,” someone who “can’t be bought,” or all of the above). Also, most drivers are hanging on to the hope that things will get better once the economy starts to recover, and we can hold on to our standard of living.

But these attacks seem likely to continue for the foreseeable future. As CHALLENGE frequently reports, the U.S. corporate class is in worldwide competition. Their main solution is squeezing the working class here in the U.S., and waging war abroad to maintain their stranglehold on oil and other resources. Once more drivers take a serious look at this “world situation,” they might conclude that we need many, many more rank-and-file leaders.

We invite all transit workers to Progressive Labor Party’s May Day celebration this year, where we will celebrate international working-class unity, discuss the rebellions in the Middle East and the Wisconsin fight-back, and look toward a world free of capitalism, where public services would come first, not last.

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