Unions, riders, and Occupy demand better public transportation

Transit unions joined public transportation riders and the Occupy movement across the US to fight cuts to public transportation and to demand that public officials make the revitalization of public transportation a priority.

Calling public transportation a human right, The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) on April 4 joined Occupy and public transportation supporters in 15 cities across the US for Occupy Transit demonstrations that protested cuts to already inadequate services, increased fares, and the possibility of more privatization.

Transport Workers Union Local 100, which is negotiating a new contract the New York Metropolitan Authority, joined the Working Families Party and subway riders on April 4 to demand that the MTA reverse plans to cut subway service on an important subway line that connects New York’s outer boroughs.

A week earlier, rank-and-file transit workers in New York teamed up with Occupy members to treat subway riders to a morning of free public transportation to protest cutbacks in service and MTA’s demands that workers accept a five-year wage freeze and higher out-of-pocket health care expenses in their new contract.

The Occupy Transit idea originated in Boston, where Occupy Boston declared April 4 Occupy Transit Day. In response, ATU issued a statement supporting the declaration. “Public transportation is a human right and critical to our nation’s economic recovery,” said ATU International President Larry Hanley. “We need to be clear that the mass transit crisis was caused in no small part by the diversion of billions of tax dollars to war and the corporations that benefit from war. And this has led to service cuts, transit worker layoffs, and higher passenger fares, which are really just another kind of tax, levied on those who can least afford it.”

Occupy Transit demonstrations took place all across the US from Boston to Seattle and from Chicago to Pensacola. In Chicago ATU and Occupy were joined by Citizen’s Taking Action, a transit riders organization that has been fighting service cuts and a privatization proposal by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

”Public transit is a central municipal service, and we don’t put money into a fare box to make some guy rich,” said Charles Paddock of Citizens Taking Action. “I foresee three things happening (if the mayor’s privatization plan is implemented): loss of control by the city, increased or added fares, and diminished service. You might want to add corruption on a scale never seen before.”

ATU International Vice-President Javier Perez criticized Republicans in the US House for rejecting a Senate transportation bill that would allow local transit agencies to use federal funds on operations, which will reduce pressure to cut services and raise fares. Currently local transportation agencies can only use federal funds for capital investments such as new buses or facility upgrades. As a result, according to ATU on its website,  you’ve got new buses sitting idle in some cities while services are being cut.

In New York, the Working Families Party gathered 11,000 signatures on a petition urging the city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority to preserve services on the G train line. Back in 2010, MTA cut services and laid off workers, but it did extend the G line which connects Brooklyn to the other outlying boroughs without going through Manhattan. This extension was welcome news for many New Yorkers, but now MTA wants to revert back to the old G line.

On April 4 the Working Families Party held a rally in front of MTA headquarters and presented the G line petition to MTA.  TWU Local 100 supported the petition drive and at the rally Local 100 member Marvin Holland told crowd, this is just the beginning. “It’s time to reclaim our public transportation system here in New York,” Holland said. “Our fight along with the riders is to get all the services cut in 2010 restored.”

A week earlier, New York subway riders at more than 20 stations were greeted by open subway gates and an official looking document that read, “Free Entry, No Fares Collected.”

Strike Is a Verb website reports that the clandestine action that opened the subway gates for much of the morning on March 28 was the work of Occupy Wall Street and rank-and-file members of Local 100 and ATU. According to the website, “No property was damaged. Teams . . . chained open service gates and taped up turnstiles in a coordinated response to escalating service cuts, fare hikes, racist policing, assaults on transit workers’ working conditions and livelihoods — and the profiteering of the super-rich by way of a system they’ve rigged in their favor.”

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