A crowd of bus drivers, riders, union leaders and members rallied near the doors of the Federal building earlier today in order to show their support for legislation they believe will turn around the Bay Area’s public transportation crisis.
The rally was part of a nationwide tour organized by the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and Reverend Jesse Jackson in order publicize two pieces of legislation (HR-2746 and S-3189) that some (but not all) believe is the answer to public transportation woes around the country. The purpose of the San Francisco rally was to attract the attention of Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein.
“This won’t just benefit San Francisco,” said Judith Garcia, a San Francisco resident and Muni rider at the rally. “It will benefit all communities. We need public transportation.”
Currently the federal money transportation agencies receive can only be used on capital expenses, such as buying buses. The proposed House bill will allow transportation agencies to spend a portion of the federal money they receive on operating costs, such as hiring more drivers to keep bus lines in service. The Senate bill, also known as the Public Transportation Preservation Act, would provide a $2 billion grant to give hurting public transit agencies temporary relief.
The city’s emergency broadcast system sounded off — as it does every Tuesday at noon — just as the rally began.
“Like all good transit systems, we run on time,” said SF Labor Council Director Tim Paulson as he promptly kicked off the speakers.
Leaders of the ATU, the TWU, the SF Transit Riders Union, and various civil rights groups all gave a go at informing and pumping up the crowd, which was mostly made of transit union members and community advocates.
Hoots, hollers, and chants of “Ride on!”, “Fund our transit, fund it now!”, and the more tongue twisting call, “Public Transportation Preservation Act!”, sounded off between the Federal and State buildings on Golden Gate and into the clear blue sky.
“We’re not here for a feel good rally,” said TWU International Vice President Harry Lombardo. “We’re here to send a message.”
The main attraction and most sought after guest of the hour-long rally, energetic Reverend Jesse Jackson, was disappointingly nowhere to be found. According to Paulson, Mr. Jackson is currently in Africa.
While BART currently has a surplus of funds, the SFMTA (including Muni) currently faces a $45.1 million deficit. This deficit has lead to service cuts, fired drivers, and a increase in the cost of riders’ month long passes, which has many saying enough is enough.
If the House bill, which allows federal money to be used on day to day expenses, goes through, ATU
President lobbyist Jeff Rosenberg predicts that about $40 million could be harnessed for Bay Area transit companies operating costs. He added that the money would “get split up between BART, Muni, AC Transit, among others.”
David Snyder of the Transit Riders Union and Forrest Schmidt of the Answer Coalition both pointed out that much of the transit deficit heat has been directed at the drivers, who recently rejected a series of concessions expected to save Muni $19 million over the next two years. Snyder, however, said during his speech that the money that could be saved by adjusting transit operators salary would hardly put a dent in the current deficit.
“Yes I do think the bill is a good answer [to the deficit],” said Forrest Schmidt after the rally. “It’s more solid than the demonization campaign against drivers.”
The San Francisco rally was the fifth stop on the nationwide Save Our Ride tour. This Thursday the campaign will be taken to Sacramento. Other stops included Atlanta, Birmingham, Detroit, and Cleveland.