Become an Active Citizen

The next time you see a public hearing announcement from a government agency about anything that could affect you or someone you know, pay attention.

I don’t normally attend public hearings – and apparently, judging from the turnout, most people don’t – but the one I went to Monday night showed me that becoming an active citizen can make a difference. Even if a small one. Even with huge budget deficits.

Most transit riders didn’t know it, but the Sacramento, California, transit system had proposed, along with the service cuts presented at an earlier hearing, the following huge fare increases and discount eliminations (a fare increase by another name):

  • There would be no change in the price of monthly passes – used mostly by commuters with jobs, many of whom get deep discounts from their employers – or daily passes.
  • Raising the regular one-way fare from $2.25 to $2.50;
  • Raising the discount one-way fare, for seniors, disabled people, and students under 18, from $1.10 to $1.25. (These fares come on top of a $50 per month fee for a corresponding sticker.)
  • Eliminating the discount rate (half that rate for seniors) for people who travel within the Central City grid, so all would have to pay the regular fare.
  • Eliminating the transfer system completely, forcing passengers to pay full fare for each leg of their trip (e.g., a bus-light rail-bus trip – common enough – would cost $2.50 x 3 legs = $7.50 each way). The only alternative would be to buy a daily pass, which costs $6 and is only available at the handful of ticket outlets around town. Drivers do not sell daily passes.
  • For Paratransit riders, monthly passes would rise from $100 to $125. Worse, that pass would no longer provide unlimited rides but would be cut back to just 30 one-way rides per month.
  • In another hit, the fee for single Paratransit rides without a monthly pass would increase from $4.50 each way to $5.
  • Finally, adding insult to injury, the free Lifetime pass for seniors over 75 would be eliminated completely.

Notice who will be affected the most: seniors, the poor, and the disabled, none of whom have other options, precisely because they are elderly or disabled and so can’t ride a bike, for example, or because they are poor and can’t come up with $100 for a monthly pass and don’t have a car to get to the scattered ticket outlets to buy a daily pass.

Being relatively poor right now (I am on unemployment, at the highest weekly rate), I would feel this pain three ways: (1) the regular fare increase; (2) the elimination of the discount within the 20-block-square Central City, where I live; and especially (3) the elimination of the transfer system. I went to the hearing to speak out about the transfer system, first and foremost.

A Paratransit rider and driver

A Paratransit rider and driver

But the room was filled with another community who would be devastated by some of these changes. Word got around the disabled community about the drastic curtailing of Paratransit usage per month, from unlimited rides for $100, to just 30 one-way rides for $125 per month. It was an amazin sight: folks in wheelchairs filled half the room, and folks who were blind and/or walked with difficulty filled most of the other half.

Everyone who signed up got a chance to speak – for 1 minute – and of course they spoke against the usage cuts, many eloquently, and most out of desperation.

How are they going to get to their multiple doctor’s appointments if they only have enough round trips for 15 days per month? How are they going to get to their jobs if they reach their limit halfway through the month? How are they going to care for their grown daughter or elderly mother if they are also disabled? Must they choose between medications and physical therapy? Or a doctor appointment and groceries?

The 52 speakers waited two hours for their agenda item to come up – so long that their Paratransit rides home began to show up. And when they spoke, they were impressive. I had no idea of how desperate their lives would become, how on the edge of desperation they live, as they strive merely for dignity – and neither did the transit board members, though only one would admit it.

A few others, like me, addressed other issues, such as the 83-year-old woman who appealed to the board not to take away her Lifetime pass. “I worked for 50 years, and I always took Regional Transit, and I paid all those years,” she said. “I should get a little something back.

But that wasn’t the only idea I got from the disabled folks at last night’s meeting. The mere fact that they showed up and spoke out demonstrated the impact we can have if we become Active Citizens.
The best example is the outcome of this meeting: After some 40 disabled people made their case – and many more hours of discussion – the transit board voted to raise the Paratransit pass price – but to drop the proposed limits on rides per month.
The Paratransit rides will remain unlimited, because these Active Citizens showed up and spoke out.

Here’s what I learned from the disabled folks at last night’s meeting: The mere fact that they showed up and spoke out demonstrated the impact we can have if we become Active Citizens. These agencies count on the public not showing up.

The best example is the outcome of this meeting: After some 40 disabled people made their case – and many more hours of discussion – the transit board voted to raise the Paratransit pass price – but to drop the proposed limits on rides per month. And although new Lifetime passes will no longer be sold, the 83-year-old speaker, can keep her free Lifetime pass.

These small victories were won because these Active Citizens showed up and spoke out.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: