The February 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Top 20 Meanest Cities in U.S.

Hate Crimes in Fort Lauderdale

Classism in the Stacks: Libraries and Poor People

Housing Authority's Kafka-Style Interrogation

Bay Area Transit: Separate and Unequal

Lawsuit on Behalf of East Bay Bus Riders

MLK Would Tell Congress to Value Workers

Art, Music for Homeless Kids

Mercy: A Story

The Birdman of Berkeley

Resisting Unjust Corporate Power

President Bush Speaks His Mind

Street Spirit Poetry


January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 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.

Court Rules for East Bay Bus Riders

Discrimination Lawsuit Against MTC to Move Forward

by Public Advocates

Rejecting arguments by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the U.S. District Court ruled on December 20 that a civil rights lawsuit by East Bay bus riders challenging racial discrimination in MTC' s allocation of Bay Area transit funds will proceed.

The class action lawsuit, filed April 19 on behalf of AC Transit bus riders of color, asserts that MTC discriminates against poor transit riders of color by maintaining "separate and unequal" transit systems: an expanding state-of-the-art rail system, Caltrain and BART, for disproportionately white and affluent passengers and a shrinking bus system, AC Transit, for low-income people of color.

The Court's ruling rebuffs MTC's eight-month-long legal campaign to deny East Bay minority bus riders their day in court on technical grounds.

MTC, the agency that allocates more than $1 billion a year in Bay Area public transportation funds, did not dispute allegations that AC Transit riders receive a public subsidy of only $2.78 per trip, while BART passengers receive more than double that subsidy ($6.14) and Caltrain passengers nearly five times more ($13.79).

Instead, MTC argued that the bus riders left stranded by its discriminatory under-funding of AC Transit did not have "standing" to sue MTC in federal court.

This marked MTC's second effort to have the case thrown out of court. In an unorthodox procedure, MTC in effect asked the Court to decide disputed factual questions without a trial. The Court refused to circumvent proper procedure, requiring that factual disputes be resolved at trial, and only after MTC has provided the plaintiffs with all relevant information and documents in the discovery process.

MTC's unsuccessful efforts to have the case dismissed on procedural grounds coincided with nationwide observances of the passing of Rosa Parks, whose refusal to submit to second-class treatment in public transportation sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott 50 years ago. The ridership of the bus system Rosa Parks used in Montgomery, Alabama, was 75 percent African-American, while 80 percent of AC Transit bus riders are people of color.

Judge Laporte's decision also coincided with rising public outrage over the longstanding inequities the lawsuit challenges. In an op-ed piece decrying MTC's discriminatory funding in the San Francisco Chronicle last June, Rep. Barbara Lee asserted that, "Fifty years after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, mass-transit bus service unfortunately remains a symbol of inequality in our society."

The Oakland City Council unanimously approved a resolution on November 1 calling on MTC to assure equitable funding for East Bay transit riders. The resolution, similar to one adopted by the Berkeley City Council in July, notes that funding decisions by MTC have left AC Transit bus riders with lower per-passenger subsidies, and lower levels of service, than predominantly white riders of Caltrain and BART.

Bay Area elected officials have spoken out against MTC's inequitable funding practices. A letter authored in September by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, and co-signed by California State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee and George Miller, Alameda Country Supervisor Keith Carson, and others, urged MTC "to make use of its extensive authority... to ensure that each transit passenger, regardless of income or ethnicity, receives an equitable subsidy of public dollars and equal access to vital transit services."

The lawsuit will now proceed into the discovery phase, in which MTC is expected to turn over some 60,000 pages of internal documents.

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