The May 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Someone's Sister: Homeless in the East Bay

A Young Mother Dreams of a Brighter Future

Legal Rights of Homeless People

Exposing Wal-Mart Empire

HUD Pulls a Disappearing Act

Devastating Cuts to Section 8

Civil Rights Gets on the Bus

UC Students Brutalized by Police

Activism for Economic Justice

Night of Humanity and Courage

Nonviolent Vigil for San Diego's Poorest

The Faithful Fools

Medical Pot in Santa Cruz

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


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.

Civil Rights Gets on the Bus

by Janny Castillo

East Bay bus riders file lawsuit to challenge separate and unequal transit systems.

Berkeley students wait for an AC Transit bus. One proposal would eliminate student bus passes, a hardship for poor parents.

A civil rights lawsuit was filed on April 19 against the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). The suit accuses MTC of discriminating against minority riders, both intentionally and by the impact of its decisions.

"The Bay Area has two separate and unequal transit systems: an expanding state-of-the-art rail system - Caltrain and BART - for predominantly white, relatively affluent communities; and a shrinking bus system - AC Transit - for low-income people of color. What we're seeking is not to shut down Caltrain and BART, but to have equity," said Bill Lann Lee, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county Bay Area, and funnels $1 billion annually in state and federal money to local transit agencies, including AC Transit.

Data in support of the suit from the National Transit Database shows that, in the Bay Area, transit systems with a higher percentage of white riders receive greater public subsidies per rider than transit systems serving a higher percentage of people of color. The figures tell the story of two transit systems, separate and uequal:

1. Caltrain has 60 percent white riders and gets a subsidy of $13.79 per rider.
2. BART has 43.3 percent white riders and gets a subsidy of $6.14 per rider.
3. AC transit has only 20.6 percent white riders and gets a subsidy of only $2.78 per rider.

Sylvia Darensburg, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, is a single mother to three teenagers. She works as a medical administrative assistant in downtown Oakland and also takes classes in Hayward. She relies on public transit every day.

Due to budget cuts, bus routes have been shortened or eliminated, and it takes her an hour to get to work and an hour and 45 minutes to get to school. After school, she has to walk home through an unsafe area, a direct result of evening service being canceled near her home.

Born in the 1970s, Sylvia knows first hand the impact of coming together under one voice. She said, "I am in a population that gets out there and does the work and we do not have what we need."

Syliva speaks about how transportation inequality affects people in East Oakland. "The white community expects their buses to run on time," she noted. "We, people of color, who represent 80 percent of AC Transit riders, expect the same. We need buses to come on time every day, not just one or two days out of the week. We know it is possible. BART runs on time - why can't AC Transit get the funding to provide that quality of service? In the '70s they had a world-class bus system. We need to have that again."

Long hours on the bus have a negative impact on the mental and physical health of riders. This impact is multiplied by experiences of violence, gang-related disturbances, and encounters with people under the influence. By the time parents get home, they are mentally and physically exhausted. For Sylvia, she has less energy to devote to her teenagers and is often irritable and frustrated.

While AC Transit has been shrinking and scaling back service, BART and Caltrain have been expanding every year. AC Transit is looking into ways to offset their budget deficit. One of the proposals is to eliminate the student bus passes which would cause Sylvia's transportation bill of $150 a month to double.

Sylvia has gotten a positive response from community members who are sympathetic to the issues in the lawsuit. Other mothers have come forward wanting to tell their stories and express their concerns. She feels the community is listening.

Sylvia has a message about equal rights and justice for all. She said, "It is unjust and discriminatory to provide adequate services for one segment of society while ignoring and isolating the other."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three East Oakland and Richmond minority riders, the nonprofit Communities for a Better Environment and the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 192.

Ways to get involved in Transportation justice

Kids First/Real Hard, a downtown Oakland nonprofit agency, is advocating for AC Transit to preserve or reduce the youth bus passes for middle school and high school students. They need volunteers to input data from a countywide survey. Please call Julie at (510) 452-2043.

Kids First and the Transportation Justice Working Group (TJWG) would like all interested persons to attend a public hearing on Wednesday, May 18, 2005, at the AC Transit Board of Directors at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside Drive. Attendees will have the opportunity to comment on AC Transit's proposals to restructure or increase bus fares. The proposals are available on the AC Transit Website. Call Julie at (510) 452-2043 for more detailed information.

Join the Grassroots Bus Rider's Union by calling Janny at (510) 395-7035.

How to comment

Individuals and organizations may submit comments on the proposed service changes in a number of ways:
1. Speak at the public hearings.
2. Submit written comments at the public hearings.
3. Submit written comments by mail to AC Transit Board of Directors, 1600 Franklin Street, Oakland, CA 94612.
4. Fax comments to (510) 891-4874.
5. Leave your comments in a voicemail message at (510) 891-7293.

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

E-mail: Spirit

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Published by American Friends Service Committee

Editor : Terry Messman

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