The April 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Murder of Mary Katherine King

Eyes Wide Open

California Lifts Food Stamp Ban

The Ordeal of Ramona Choyce

Republicans Shred Disabled Housing

Art and Activism of Jos Sances

The Paintings of Jos Sances

Gambling with Social Security

Billionaires Grow Richer, Poverty Worsens

Existence Itself Is Banned for the Homeless Poor

Bush Policy Errs on Chronic Homelessness

Sankofa House: A Rainbow for Homeless Women

Student Summit Against Hunger

A Lifetime at the Bus Stop

Working for Transit Justice

Poor Leonard's Almanack

BOSS Community Organizing

The Anguish of Classism





May 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Mapping Out a Route to Transportation Justice

Homeless Shelter Residents Seek to Improve the Poor Condition of Mass Transit in the East Bay

by Janny Castillo

Residents of two homeless programs in Alameda County have become actively involved in the ongoing struggle for transportation justice for low-income people in the East Bay.

Jeff Hobson and Emily Rodgers, representatives of TALC (Transportation and Land Use Coalition), facilitated two trainings on transportation justice in February at the Oakland Homeless Project and the South County Homeless Project, residences run by BOSS (Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency). Both trainings were received well by the residents who engaged in interactive activities and were given information about how transportation policy plays out in the Bay Area.

TALC is a partnership of over 90 groups working for a sustainable and socially just Bay Area. They envision a region with healthy, "walkable" communities that provide all residents with transportation choices and affordable housing. The coalition analyzes county and regional policies, works with community groups to develop alternatives, and coordinates grassroots campaigns for transportation justice.

The brainstorm sessions identified several issues that are typically faced by transit-dependent riders. The homeless residents spoke of their experiences and shared their opinions on riding AC Transit buses in Oakland and Hayward.

Bus shelters in the East Bay are too often missing or inadequate. Many bus stops offer no place to sit and no shelter from the weather. The elderly and the disabled have to wait in the rain and hot sun at stops without bus shelters. To rectify this, the residents agreed that bus shelters need to be installed at all major bus stops.

Another major problem is inadequate lighting around bus stops, which can lead to increased criminal activity. Phones should be installed close to bus stops for emergencies.

Several participants claimed to have witnessed violent behavior at bus stops; one person was physically assaulted. Bus shelters and stops are vandalized frequently and left in disrepair for many months. Participants also charged that there is no way to know when to expect buses because most stops don't have schedules posted.

TALC trainers Hobson and Rodgers used the bus shelter conditions as an example of what the average citizen can do to ask that improvements be made. The discussion began with identifying the following decision makers.

1. More than two dozen transit agencies in the Bay Area run buses, trains and ferries. They carry 98 percent of transit riders and serve 92 percent of the population in low-income communities.

2. County Congestion Management agencies are responsible for transportation policy and planning. They decide where money will be spent at the county level.

3. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) plans the transportation network for nine Bay Area Counties. Each year, MTC votes to allocate nearly $1 billion to mass transit, streets and roads, highways, freight facilities, and bicycle and pedestrian routes in the region.

4. Local governments are primarily responsible for maintaining local streets, roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, and multiple-use paths.

5. Federal funding accounts for a small portion (about 12 percent) of the Bay Area's transportation funding. Most federal spending programs delegate, to the state or to MTC, the authority to decide which projects get funded.

Hobson explained to BOSS residents that AC Transit makes the decisions on where to place bus shelters. AC Transit has contracted with a private company to install and maintain the shelters, in return for the right to sell advertising on them.

The group brainstormed ways to get their attention. They could get a petition signed by all homeless residents across the agency identifying dangerous bus shelters, shelters in need of repair, and locations where bus shelters should be installed. Also, they could write a letter to the AC Transit staff member in charge of handling complaints and write to the appropriate City Council representative.

BOSS residents brought up other important ways that public transit could be improved for all users:
1. The main office only has bus schedules in English. AC Transit should make them available in other languages.
2. Schedules could be posted in main libraries and bus shelters for better access.
3. Riders are left standing in the rain because buses pass them up or are often late.
4. Bus transfers can only be used once and for a short time, thus increasing the cost of transportation significantly.
5. Bus drivers do not always enforce the rules, such as allowing priority seating for seniors and the disabled.
6. Buses come bunched together, back to back, and if you miss them the wait time is extended.

Poor conditions at bus stops

There are great discrepancies between bus stops as you ride down International Boulevard from Hayward into East Oakland. In Hayward, a lonely pole imitates a bus stop with no place nearby to sit or get out of the weather. San Leandro has an artsy granite seat that can seat maybe one or two people (the garbage can next to it is larger than the seat), and still no bus shelter.

What was perhaps the most blatant show of inequality was in East Oakland. On the corner of 73rd Avenue and International Boulevard stands a pristine example of what a bus shelter should be like, with a telephone near by and a map outlining bus routes. Yet on the opposite corner on International Boulevard stands what might be the worst-looking bus stop in all of Oakland. How long has this bus stop looked the way it does? How long will it take AC Transit to fix it? They never will if we never tell them.

A TALC publication entitled ACCESS NOW! A guide to winning the transportation your community needs, is available for free at 405 14th Street, Suite 605, in Oakland or by calling (510) 740-3150.

Working to Overcome Inequality in Public Transit

by Janny Castillo

"We believe no one should have to choose between eating lunch and getting their 'free education' -- that students deserve affordable transportation to school, after school programs and jobs. Now, we're fighting to get the free bus pass back."

These are the words of Real Hard, a youth organization associated with Kids First, a downtown Oakland nonprofit fighting for better transportation services for low-income youth. They, along with other members of the Transportation Justice Working Group, are talking to hundreds of middle school and high school students across the Bay Area to hear their thoughts on bus service and what a free bus pass would mean to them.

The Transportation Justice Working Group (TJWG) is a network of nonprofit organizations, researchers, and advocates who are working together to make equity a top community priority in transportation planning and funding. The TJWG educates policy makers and the larger community to raise awareness of the consequences of our current transportation policies, and works to document inequity and to defend the transit rights of low-income families and communities of color.

At Berkeley High School, 160 students filled out the two-page survey designed by Real Hard. Questions spanned areas of safety, rider frequency, transfer expense, and more. Students were also asked how they benefited from the free youth pass that was available in the 2002-03 school year.

Preliminary (unpublished) findings indicated that late buses often made the youth late for school. Some indicated that they did not feel safe on the bus and described how easily violence breaks out. Many more emphasized that a free or a reduced bus pass makes a significant difference in their lives.

Real Hard is planning to release survey results in April or May. Real Hard members have made numerous presentations to other youth groups, and have spoken with students at McClymond's, Oakland Tech, and Fremont High Schools. So far they have collected over 1000 surveys. If you would like to help in this campaign, please call Julie at (510) 452-2043.

Environmental Justice and the MTC

The Transportation Justice Working Group strongly supports the environmental justice principles recently adopted by the Minority Citizens Advisory Committee (MCAC). These principles were put before the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) legislature committee for approval in February 2005.

During the presentation, MCAC Chair Frank Gallo reminded the committee members that similar principles were adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation and described the MCAC's purpose: "To advise the commission to ensure that the view and needs of minority communities are adequately reflected in MTC policies."

Numerous publications and studies prove that inequities in public transit do exist. "ACCESS NOW! A Guide to Winning the Transportation Your Community Needs," written by the Transportation and Land Use Coalition (TALC), describes the situation: "Jobs out of reach, missed health appointments, students unable to get to night classes; these problems all have a common cause: transportation barriers. Often these are the result of decades of transportation and growth decisions that failed to adequately involve the people with the greatest needs - the transit dependent. ...Inadequate transportation is identified as (one) of the top obstacles to self-sufficiency and a better life."

Public Advocates, Inc. released a report in October 2003 comparing AC Transit to BART. The report estimated that AC Transit riders with incomes below $30,000 totaled 58 percent of the total riders, while 23 percent of BART riders had incomes above $75,000.

AC Transit showed an average of 60 percent transit-dependent riders while BART showed only 20 percent transit-dependent passengers. AC Transit defines "transit dependent" as riders that have no car, do not drive, or are not licensed drivers, and riders with disabilities and elderly riders. Even with the need so painfully visible, between the years 1965-1997, BART received close to $18 billion in public funding while AC Transit received only $5 billion.

The guiding principles, if adopted by MTC, would represent a common-sense approach to promoting equity at all levels of decision-making; this would help place focus on and hopefully begin to rectify the transportation disparities within the low-income communities.

Four main principles were proposed:
Principle 1: Create an open and transparent public participation process that empowers low-income communities and communities of color to participate in decision-making that affects them.

Principle 2: Collect accurate, current data essential to understanding the presence and extent of inequities in transportation funding based on race and income.

Principle 3: MTC should change its investment decisions as necessary to mitigate identified inequities. These changes would apply both to the financing of already existing projects as well as to the financing of proposed or future projects.

Principle 4: Ensure that disproportionate project impacts on low-income and/or minority communities are addressed and mitigated prior to MTC project or funding approval.
Several MTC legislature commissioners took exception to the language in the principles. In principle 3, concerning the phrase, "MTC should change its investment decisions," one commissioner believed that this implied that "past MTC decisions were negative."

Another commissioner considered the language in principle 4 problematic with regard to the phrase "addressed and mitigated" because "there may be some items that are way beyond the financial scope of what the commission is able to do."

The commission decided to have staff look over the principles and prepare a report on the ramifications and how they would be carried out.

On February 25, 2005, the report was distributed to the MTC legislative committee, with recommended changes to three of the principles. The report then went into ways "to address each (revised) principle through existing programs and policies." But it did not mention why the original principles were not accepted.

These are the revised principles as proposed by MTC staff:
Principle 2: Collect accurate and current data to better understand the impact of transportation funding decisions on minority and low-income communities.

Principle 3: Review funding decisions for fairness so that communities of concern share equitably in the benefits of transportation investments without bearing a disproportionate share of the burden. Analysis to this effect should be conducted by MTC as its program and policies are developed.

Principle 4: Assess project-level impacts on low-income and/or minority communities prior to MTC approval of state and federal funding. MTC will require project sponsors to address impacts before it considers funding applications.

One of the key elements missing in the revisions is that there is no indication that past or existing inequalities will be addressed. The language of the original principles was watered down significantly and MTC staff did not follow through with the commission's directive to investigate the ramifications of the original principles. At the next MTC meeting, the principles were handed back to MCAC.

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