Not a Magic Bus

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas McKnew ruled today against NRDC and NRDC’s client, the Bus Riders Union of Los Angeles (BRU), in a lawsuit brought against the L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) challenging on environmental grounds the MTA’s July, 2007 transit fare increases.  NRDC and BRU argued that the very substantial fare increases would have physical effects on the environment because they would cause many thousands of people to turn to automobiles to travel to work, school etc.  MTA conceded that there would be effects on the environment, but argued that it was exempt from environmental review under a California statute because the fare increases were going to pay for increases in operating expenses.

NRDC’s and BRU’s view of the administrative record was that MTA was running a surplus in its operating budget, and needed more money to pay for new, expensive capital projects that shortchanged LA’s 500,000 daily bus riders in favor of the far fewer rail riders.  Judge McKnew disagreed, and so the issue will be decided in the California appellate courts.

This case is just one piece of a larger struggle to make public transit clean, efficient and affordable.  At a public hearing of the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation on August 4, 2008, I and others testified about the public health and global warming problems caused by our reliance on fossil-fueled transit.  Congress will be struggling with this issue next year when the SAFETEA-LU surface transit bill is up for reauthorization.

It should be clear to everyone that we can’t drive our way out of $4.00 per gallon gas prices or make the price of gas drop by building more freeways.  We need ways to incentivize drivers to get out of their cars and take public transit – but increasing transit fares in order to build additional underused rail lines while ignoring the needs of 500,000 daily bus riders in Los Angeles is not a smart way to do that.