At last week’s meeting of the Board of Directors, Angelenos showed off an unprecedented power to shape Metro’s budget priorities. More than 50 organizations and hundreds of individuals came together to sign our collaborative letter urging Metro to reinvest in its flailing bus service and to fulfill promises to put bus riders first as the economy recovers. Together, our collaborative planted the seeds for an extraordinary Metro Board meeting. Many of our asks were met immediately by a Metro Board that continues to show itself to be uniquely willing to engage with and listen to the voices of transit riders and advocates.
Our decision to send Metro a collaborative letter regarding its budget was based on the work that advocates had put in with us in regular budget policy meetings through our Better Buses for LA work group (sign up here). As with People’s Budget LA last year, we saw that our partners had a deep interest in addressing Metro’s budgetary process as a linchpin of the agency’s decision-making power.
Together, we identified shortcomings in the budget document, which asked Metro to address through the following seven points:
- Expand bus service to meet existing needs.
- Accelerate and prioritize bus capital improvements.
- Replace armed police with unarmed Metro personnel and social workers.
- Commit to fare free bus service through FY22.
- Prioritize Equity Focused Communities in the expenditure of federal stimulus money.
- End support and planning for freeway widening projects.
- Allocate resources to ensure greater procedural equity in FY23 budget-making.
Our goal was, and will continue to be, to push Metro forward. To be bold in its financial decision-making. To use the enormous resources at its disposal to create the world’s best bus system here in Los Angeles. To leverage its funds to improve the well-being of the Angelenos who most rely on their services.
While the Board didn’t commit to addressing all of the points we laid out in the collaborative letter, there is a lot to be pleased with from the meeting.
Building off of our request to keep the bus system free through 2022, the Directors approved a motion by County Supervisor Holly Mitchell to keep buses free indefinitely while Metro develops a proposal for fareless service systemwide.
In accordance with our findings, the Directors approved a far-reaching motion by LA City Councilmember Mike Bonin that would account for the impact of declining bus speeds on service. The same motion called for federal funds to be used to increase bus service – a key ask from our letter – and to revamp the budget process to be more equitable and public.
This last point is so important because, over the years, Metro budgets have largely been developed by staff in secrecy. Public input is sought out only after financial choices, by all appearances, have already been locked in. Angelenos have, in turn, mostly avoided engaging with the notoriously technical budget process. But that seems, finally, as though it is beginning to change.
With this year’s budget, the public clearly told Metro that we know budgets are more than just expenses and revenues: they are statements of values. As Angelenos, we have an ambitious vision for the future of our region, and we expect our largest transportation agency to do likewise. And, beyond a doubt, we are pleased that the Metro Board is listening.
Having said that, though, there remains much work to be done. While the motions made at last week’s meeting are encouraging signs for the near future at Metro (and particularly for future budget years), Metro has continued to defer on tough decisions.
The agency took no action to replace extremely expensive police on buses and trains with safer and better equipped agency staff and social workers. Nor did it state that it will categorically stop pursuing environmentally-catastrophic freeway widening projects. In the case of Metro’s NextGen plan, we are still expected to wait potentially decades into the future to fund bus only lanes and other improvements to help resuscitate bus speeds.
In each of these cases, the solutions are known. They are also urgent. So, while we take a moment to celebrate the incredible progress our growing Better Buses for LA work group has achieved so far, we also welcome you to join us as we continue to press Metro to provide Angelenos the transit system we deserve: the world’s best bus system.
Next Steps: Join us at 3:30 on June 15th, for our next Better Buses for LA meeting, sign up here. Or for more information email firstname.lastname@example.org