Connecting Claremont: Critics say new rail expansion will help rich, hurt poor
The Gold Line currently connects riders from East Lost Angeles to Pasadena, running through Union Station, where it meets Little Tokyo on the east and Chinatown on the west. If the extension is finished as planned, the line will continue to Azusa and create new stations in Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, and Irwindale. Instead of terminating in Pasadena as it does now, the line will extend out to Montclair.
The catch? The construction of this line extension means a big cut from the public bus system running in these areas. Since Metrolink and Metro Rail trains do not hit many crucial labor-intensive areas of L.A. County, many full-time workers rely on this bus system for their daily commute. The extension will also require fare increases, despite the $725 million already put aside for the project from the success of Measure R, approved by a two-thirds majority of L.A. County voters in 2008.
Many of the bus riders, who are in jeopardy of losing their daily transportation and even more of their income to fare hikes, are ethnic minorities from low-income backgrounds. Roughly 75% of riders make less than $20,000 annually, and more than half are women.
Claremont for Transit Justice, an on-campus club founded last spring, has taken a firm stance against this extension. According to the student group, the project’s favoring of surrounding suburban areas while creating setbacks in low-income communities constitutes “transit racism.” While Claremont for Transit Justice understands that many of the communities on the Gold Line – most notably Pomona and Montclair – are predominantly Hispanic and low-income, they “believe that the line is not being built to support these populations,” said Co-President Dan Berez, Pitzer ‘13.
In an op-ed published in the Claremont Courier in April, a representative of Claremont for Transit Justice claimed that the company’s desire to “prioritize rail expansion at the cost of bus riders” is just one more cruel action on MTA’s part. According to the piece, “Minority and low income populations will be better served by the increased and improved bus service that should be installed as an alternative to the hugely expensive Gold Line… This bus-only alternative will allow the MTA to continue, and improve bus services that will otherwise be cut around Los Angeles County.”
The difference between this transportation cut and those in the company’s past? Claremont students intend to raise enough hell to stop it this time. Where it hits home the most with Claremont for Transit Justice members is in the fact that all Claremont students, despite financial status, are considered upper-class simply because we reside in a suburban area. “There are over 6,000 Claremont College students who would benefit from the extension of the Gold Line at the expense of the poorest residents of Los Angeles,” the op-ed says. “The MTA sees all of these students as potential riders of the Gold Line. Students, therefore, are in a position to exercise an extraordinary amount of political power at very little personal risk.”
As with all controversies, there is at least one other side to this argument. What about those who depend on the rail for their daily commute and are anticipating the benefits of an extended Gold Line? What about bettering the Los Angeles area in general?
What it comes down to is that we, as students about to receive the upper hand on a project with serious ramifications for some of our closest neighbors, have a chance to refute this “transit racism” before it gets out of hand. We have a stake in this project’s outcome, which may prove a stepping stone for further cuts to the bus system. The poor’s cost may be our benefit – but do we really want a quick train ride to Pasadena on our consciences?