Connecting Claremont: Critics say new rail expansion will help rich, hurt poor

Metrolink, Los Angeles County’s main public rail system, is effective in only one thing: getting downtown in a slow and unventilated manner. Realizing the lack of efficient and adequate transportation to locations other than Union Station, workers broke ground on the extension of the Gold Line Metro Rail in June. The new line is scheduled to open for operation in 2014 – just in time for none of the current 5C students to use it.

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?

Anna Pickrell, a staff writer for the Claremont Port Side, is a freshman at Scripps College. She is from Moraga, California, just outside of San Francisco, and though she loves Claremont she is ultimately partial to Norcal, largely due to its use of the word “hella” as a way of life. When not writing she enjoys impersonating Liz Lemon, wishing she could be more like Veronica Mars, and lamenting over Newsweek's imminent bankruptcy.

11 Responses to “Connecting Claremont: Critics say new rail expansion will help rich, hurt poor”

  1. Olden Atwoody says:

    MetroLink needs to look at Singapore or Bangkok for mass transportation models.

    Clairmont should look to Singapore for high rise low-cost public housing models. The Prime Minister of Singapore deemed that everyone there should have tyhe opportunity to own a condo, so as to create a sense of ownership and pride.

  2. SMH says:

    So many citations needed with this article.

    “Critics say” …which ones specifically?

    “The construction of this line extension means a big cut from the public bus system” …how can you claim to know this?

    Maybe this uninformed piece would be more appropriate on a BRU blog. To hell with the consent decree! Increased bus service only means there will be more and more buses stuck in the same traffic as those who choose to drive. Fixed rail with an exclusive and segregated right of way continues to be the most efficient means of moving people from place to place. Rail priority over bus service is a stale, rotten red herring leftover from the 1990s. Bus and rail is not an either/or proposition.

  3. LAofAnaheim says:

    Maybe this Dan Perez should realize that cities are developing into more of a hub-and-spoke method for its Metro rail system. No longer can we rely on long bus routes to serve our transit needs. The rails are for long-distance commutes, whereas the buses are for short distance trips. Has Dan Perez even seen the amount of minorities on the Red, Blue, Purple, Gold and Green metro rail lines? Don’t our trains stop in minority areas? It’s not like Metro is building trains that purposely avoid the minorities and only serve the “upper class”. Now Dan, what about the middle class? Don’t we deserve good transit like the other people in world-class cities? I bet you those minorities will be appreciative of the Gold Line once their commute time gets cut in half. I wonder if you even take the bus nowadays or just drive. No minority I’ve ever met in the city of LA is upset about the rail system once it has been put in place. You are promoting fear for the unkonwn. Go to LA and see how much easier it is to access to South LA (future Expo Line), MacArthur Park (Red/Purple lines), Compton (Blue Line), etc… Heck, even the members of the Bus Riders Union ride the train!

  4. Scott Mercer says:

    This “transit racism” trope has been so discredited in practice that even the most radical transit gadflies (I won’t mention any names out of courtesy, and I am sure they would object to being described as a “gadfly”) don’t dare use it anymore for fear of being laughed out of the room. That’s my opinion, based on my experience, but you are welcome to continue on that tack as long as you wish, Mr. Berez, and do see how far it gets you.

    Whoever uses trains over buses, whether it be transit captive people who would take a bus anyway, or the long-sought “choice rider,” who could take a car if he/she wanted to, the result is the same: less vehicle traffic on the roads (whether it be buses, cars or SUVs) and more people being carried for less money.

    Race doesn’t enter into it. If you want to see one of the few places in Los Angeles County where integration is in full effect, I would suggest you take a ride on the Red Line in downtown, where you will see both the poorest of the poor and the some of the richest corporate employees in the County. Rail transit riders whose skin colors come in every shade of the rainbow and speak multiple languages. The same cannot be said about many bus lines.

    Also, if you think you’re going to stop the MTA from building the Gold Line extension, you’ve got another thing coming, my radical friend. Political will amongst the leaders of various and sundry cities, County agencies, and other bigwigs have lined up behind this project, and you can’t stop them. I should also point out that the vast majority of the public does not agree with you either, and by opposing this project you are lining up against something like 80% of the population. Proof is in the pudding: 67% of voters approved Measure R to tax ourselves to pay for the Gold Line project you oppose so much. (Probably more people were in support of the project but just didn’t want to pay for it. Just a guess on my part.)

    But you won’t do anything. You won’t be around long enough to get anything accomplished. You’ll be graduating in two years, and then you’ll have to get a real job, and face up to the fact that you’re speaking to a tiny audience and most people don’t want to hear your message.

  5. Joel C says:

    Ms. Pickrell, you have some of your facts wrong. Phase 2A (to Azusa) is scheduled to open in 2014. Phase 2B (which will serve Claremont) will open in 2019.

    So, “5C” students will not be riding this line for nine years. By then you will be in the working world, and will likely see the value and need for the Metro system.

    There is nothing racist about building Metro Rail. These lines are very effective tools to move people long distances to their jobs. As such, they are great for making available to the disadvantaged, job opportunities that would otherwise not be feasible.

  6. Derek says:

    Many things to point out from your article.

    First, Metrolink is not just LA county’s commuter system, it is also managed and funded by Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. LACMTA (dba Metro) is specifically Los Angeles county.

    Also, the existing Metrolink service really isn’t “public transit”. Their target market is upper middle class commuters who already own a car (and in many cases, several). Which brings me to their fare structure. The cost of any travel on their system is calculated by how many miles a similar trip would take on a freeway, plus a “base” boarding fee. That explains why the fare for going the 1 mile between Claremont and Montclair is still $5/one way. Between Claremont and downtown LA, a round trip ticket is $17!!! Please explain to me how a person who lives below the poverty line can afford to pay that? The fare for Metro Rail? $6 for a unlimited day pass/$1.50 each way/or $0.55 for disabled/senior riders (only a quarter on weekends). Which system do you think is more accessible to low-income transit dependent riders?

    Metrolink does not run late, or frequently, and has very limited holiday and weekend service. Metro Rail runs from 4am to past midnight, multiple headways per hour, and on Thanksgiving, Christmas, 4th of July, etc still has limited service.

    Finally, the cost of operation for light-rail versus bus is lower. Look at Metro’s Orange Line busway in the valley. Even using 55′-long articulated buses, they are frequently packed full, even with headways as often as every 3 minutes. So to move the same amount of passengers as one train with two or three 90′-long cars, you have to have three bus drivers each getting paid their salary+benefits, have to fill up three fuel tanks (LNG in this case), plus maintenance for the dozens of buses you need to maintain service on just that single line. It’s only the initial cost of building light-rail infrastructure that is more expensive than bus operation.

  7. Joe says:

    How do you know it requires a cut in bus service and an increase in fares? Where does it say that in the environmental documents?

  8. token_white_guy_on_the_Gold_line says:

    College liberals of the world, UNITE!

    or at least for the next three semesters until we graduate and move back home

  9. Mike H says:

    Racism. Are you kidding me? You are racist if you imply that low socio-economic groups are ethnic minorities, which they all are not. This decisions may disenfranchise bus riders who may have to walk. Transportation isn’t and shouldn’t be free. Lets build a rapid transit for the 21st century, not an El cheepo system that chronically requires extensive subsidy.

  10. Cindy says:

    Usually the major impact of new rail line expansions are funded by fair hikes. What this does is impact the ones in most need, as the article correctly states. I am not sure how this would be related to racism at all.


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