News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.
Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.
September 01, 2020
By Jimmy Le
Before COVID, tens of thousands of AC Transit riders paid upwards of $4.50 a ride to go to work, to shop for groceries, and to see friends and family. In the sprawling Bay Area, these fares to ride were essentially fares to live a normal life. When the pandemic began, AC Transit suspended fare collection to minimize interaction between riders and drivers. But the AC Transit Board of Directors is using the loss of fare revenue and the economic downturn’s effect on municipal budgets as an excuse to impose austerity. The public bus system is facing service cuts of up to 30%.
These cuts are unnecessary — before the pandemic, fares only funded 12.6% of AC transit’s budget. We can make up budget shortfalls with taxes on corporations and the ultrarich, who have seen their wealth skyrocket during the pandemic while the rest of us suffer. We can afford to get rid of fares, permanently.
Public transit continues to face unnecessary cuts that reduce its quality, when increased funding to make it fare-free is what’s needed. Look at the effects of instituting fare-free transit in Olympia, Wash. Within a month of getting rid of fares, ridership increased by 60,000 people, an increase of 20% over the previous year. More riders on the bus means less cars on the road and a significant reduction in carbon emissions. It also means more people are able to do the things that matter to them, like getting to work, buying family necessities, and enjoying recreation.
Fare-free transit would ensure that the communities that depend most on public transit are effectively served. 65% of AC Transit’s riders come from households making less than $50,000, and 75% identify as non-white. Fare-free transit would mean an end to fare collection systems, police, and the threat of needless police violence. Fare-free transit would also provide people who live in areas that lack essential services — predominantly Black and brown working-class people — free and reliable connection to areas full of them.
By establishing fare-free transit, we can signal to corporations and the ultrarich that our communities will no longer fall for the myth of “convenience through innovation,” peddled by those who want to dismantle our public transit system. Uber continues to ruthlessly exploit its precarious gig workers while paying only 1.45% of its income in taxes. Meanwhile, the Koch brothers fund lobbyists who want to destroy public transit programs. These billionaires are the ones to blame for problems with public transportation. They claim to fix our problems through innovation, but actually make the problems worse.
We cannot trust corporations to serve the public interest. We have seen privatization undercut and devalue the public goods we depend on, like education, housing, and public transportation. Privatization creates separate and unequal services, giving the wealthy access to higher-quality private goods and sticking working-class people with underfunded, lower-quality public alternatives. This division erodes the popular support needed to maintain high-quality public goods that benefit everyone.
Public transit is something we must reclaim for our communities. Fare-free transit is only the beginning. Making ridership more affordable and accessible will make it more popular, building support for greater funding and expanded service in the future. Take, for example, the evolution of the United States Postal Service (USPS) from its early stages of delivering children for 53 cents to its now robust parcel service. USPS, like AC Transit, has faced fierce competition from private entities and slander, but has been able to resist attacks because of its proven ability to provide reliable parcel service for all.
What can we do to defend and improve our public bus system? A first step is electing Jovanka Beckles to the AC Transit Board of Directors, which oversees all policy for the bus system. She is fighting for expanded, emissions-free, fare-free public transit. She understands that we cannot wait for a national Green New Deal but should start transitioning to a green economy locally. Jovanka recognizes the needs of the East Bay’s working class and has a proven record of fighting for working people’s interests as a former Richmond City Councilmember.
Jovanka has been endorsed by Amalgamated Transit 192, representing AC Transit’s mechanics and bus drivers, as well as many other unions across the East Bay. Electing Jovanka means having someone on the AC Transit Board who is deeply connected to the labor movement and the movement for safe, accessible, and comprehensive service.
We need to elect leaders like Jovanka if we want to realize a future where public transit is a right for all, regardless of where we live or our ability to pay. Of course, electing the right people isn’t enough. We need to build an organized movement of working-class people who will go on strike and take to the streets to win a better world. Jovanka’s campaign is a start at building that kind of movement.