At the Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) meeting on Friday, February 26, Frank Lara from ANSWER said it best. "The MTA keeps trying to pit one section of poor and working class people against each other. We aren't taking it anymore."

First, it was those of us with cars, including the many working people and families who have little choice but to drive. Hit those folks in the Mission, the Bayview, the Western Addition and everywhere else poor folks try to find a parking place with massive new parking fees, fines, extended meter hours and towing charges. But that didn't fly so well, despite the bleating of some "green" folks who think that owning a car makes working people the enemy.

Next, the MTA tried to sock it to the Muni drivers, who have one of the most stressful jobs on the planet. They didn't quite say, "let's go after those uppity Black drivers," but you can hear that racist undercurrent loud and clear if your ears aren't stuffed with cotton. That hasn't gone down so well with the rank-and-file of the Transport Workers Union (TWU), and good for them.

Finally, the MTA went after youth, seniors and the disabled with the ridiculous proposal to double the cost of their fast passes, which have already gone up by 50% just a couple of months ago. The MTA thinks that they can play off youth, seniors and the disabled against Muni workers, but judging by the rousing reception TWU speakers got from the hundreds of people who jammed silly hall for the MTA meeting, that tactic is missing a leg or two.

I'm writing this before I even know what decisions the MTA reached at its meeting. But it is obvious that, whatever they do today, they will continue to try to pit us against each other. The youth/senior/disabled fast pass increase will probably go down -- for now. But this budget cycle or the next, they are coming after the riders, even though fares and fast passes have DOUBLED since Gavin Newsom moved into Room 200.

Meanwhile, drastic Muni service cuts are coming, and coming and coming -- both the announced cuts and the unannounced ones that we see on the streets. The alleged promise of the so-called "Transit Effectiveness Project" (TEP) turns out (surprise! surprise!) to have just been an excuse to dump lines in low-income communities. Try taking Muni if you get off work after midnight, or have to show up for work at 6am or 7am. Try waiting in the rain, with a sack full of groceries, with young children, or with your walker.

One speaker at the MTA meeting responded to the call for all of us to "share the pain" by asking why Wells Fargo, Bank of America or Bechtel wasn't in the room. What about all those other downtown corporations and hotels who get their workers and customers delivered to them for free by Muni every day? Other speakers asked for the war budget for Afghanistan and Iraq to go instead to public transportation. But the only place the MTA knows to look for money is in the pockets of Muni drivers or youth or seniors or the disabled. What a crock.

How about using Muni's beefed-up fare police, not to stage "stings" at Muni stops, but to stage stings at the offices of a few select downtown banks and corporations? Tax the rich, and pass the ammunition...

What MUNI riders need, and have needed for a long time, is a real, mass-based Muni riders organization. And I don't mean the yuppie "Rescue Muni" kind, nor the wonkie downtown SPUR-inspired kind.

What we need is an organization based among poor and working class folks, dedicated to the proposition that Muni belongs to the people, that service and fares should be structured so as to best meet OUR needs, not the needs of the corporate elite or the downtown big-wigs. That means, at a minimum, no more service cuts, no more fare increases, and no more bashing of working-class drivers (whether they drive a bus or a car).

Nothing of this sort came out of the righteous political battles to set up a downtown transit assessment district in the 80's and 90's. Nor out of the fare strike of 2005, nor out of the many other efforts to beat back the decline of our once-proud public transportation system. But, looking at the anger in the eyes of so many Muni riders at the MTA meeting Friday, now just might be the time.

I don't know about you, but I'm showing up at the Muni riders rally at Powell and Market at 5pm on Monday, March 1. The demands put forward sum it up: NO Cuts! NO Hikes! Chop from the Top! Tax the Rich! Stop Police Terrorizing Riders! MUNI Workers and Riders UNITE! Coincidentally (maybe), TWU is calling for a mobilization at the same time and the same place. Sounds good to me.




Copyright © 2010 by Marc Norton

Marc Norton is a bellman at a small hotel in downtown San Francisco. Contact him at nortonsf@ix.netcom.com, or through his website at www.MarcNorton.us.