Bandwagon Activism

To thwart Metro expansion, “transit justice” group courts all

By Mark Munro, CMC’12 and Ashley Scott, CMC ’11

Glancing around the North Quad parking lot, one spots a slew of Audis and BMWs, a sprinkling of Range Rovers and Jeeps, and the rare beater. The Metrolink remains a viable alternative to driving into Los Angeles, but any student would scoff at the prospect of riding a bus through the sprawling city. This and other discrepancies have attracted the concern of Claremont for Transit Justice (CTJ), a Claremont College organization committed to opposing the rampant “transit racism” in Los Angeles. Lauren Rettig, a Scripps junior and one of CTJ’s five founding members, believes that “mass transportation is a basic right.” Her attraction to advocating for transit justice stems from its fusion of “racism, sexism, queer identity, environmentalism, classism, and many other intersections.”transit_justice

Currently, the group seeks to prevent the expansion of the Metro rail into areas near Claremont. According to the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, the project will “connect historic downtowns, revitalizing the established communities along the corridor” spanning from Pasadena to Montclair by 2014. A predicted one-way fare for the Gold Line remains $1.25, with monthly and weekly passes available.

Yet the costs of transportation’s expansion has spread across the system to bus services and riders. Upon building a Gold Line rail extension to Pasadena in 2007, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) declared a budgetary crisis, subsequently eliminating monthly unlimited-use passes and raising fares for bus riders in inner-city LA. Several grassroots organizations filed a class action lawsuit against the MTA under the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, alleging that the MTA’s actions violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which requires public agencies receiving federal funding to allocate funds – including the $12 billion for the expansion – in a racially equitable manner.

This debate seems to center on the question of bus versus train. Claremont for Transit Justice argues that “bus, not Metrolink, fares that are being increased to raise funds for rail expansion.” While the claim holds true, the organization fails to acknowledge that Metrolink and the Metro Gold Line function as two separate entities under different management. Moreover, the MTA justified its increase from $1.25 to $1.50 as a response to the economic recession, not to expansion.

Claremont for Transit Justice contends that 85% of bus riders are racial minorities and that roughly 50% rail commuters are Caucasian. In addition, 65% of bus riders are women, many of whom bear the brunt of providing for a family. Considering that 65% of bus riders have yearly incomes under $15,000, any increase in bus fares compromises these individuals’ standards of living. Retting explained the multi-faceted nature of transit racism. “Those disadvantaged by the bus system in LA are primarily black and brown,” she told the Port Side, adding that the queer community also faces discrimination. “Families using the buses are not the stereotypically ideal nuclear kind, but rather families composed of single parents, grandparents who are primary care takers, and of course, queer individuals are present.” Nonetheless, the Gold Line is not just limited to affluent people in Pasadena and Claremont; rather, it also plans to serve working class communities of color, such as Montclair, whose Hispanic population totaled 73% and had a median household income of $40,797 during the 2000 Census.

Claremont for Transit Justice also endorses a campaign to build a mass transit system of clean-fuel buses with a network of bus-only lanes spread across the city’s freeways and major roads. Given this environmentally-based argument for the expansion of buses, the organization should also note that the rail expansion may have similar results. The Environmental Protection Agency predicts that the Metro Gold Line will reduce 126 tons of carbon monoxide per year.

Despite concerns, the Gold Line is rolling full steam ahead. Students must ask themselves whether this oppressive rail line will actually subdue them. As tempting as it is to accuse the MTA of furthering the heteronormative agenda, the Gold Line appears more like “the little engine that could” than the “big bad wolf.”


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