City riders to fight MTA fare increase Grass-roots group plans protest today

service cuts opposed

Boycott threatened

Transit proposals called unfair to poor and racially biased

January 15, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Upset that the Mass Transit Administration will increase bus fares by 8 percent while reducing service, city riders are threatening to boycott, organize marches and file racial discrimination lawsuits in hopes of reversing the changes.

At noon today, a grass-roots group plans to protest at the corner of Lexington and Eutaw streets -- an event that organizers say will launch a series of actions that they believe will force MTA officials to back down.

Sharon Ceci, spokeswoman for the All People's Congress, which is spearheading today's protest, said the fare increase is unfair to low-income city riders. MTA announced last week that fares will increase a dime to $1.35 on March 10.

"That may not sound like a lot to you, but take a person who is making $5.50 an hour with a family of four and they will have to choose between paying bills and transportation," Ms. Ceci said.

As part of the changes, the MTA will eliminate the current five-zone system that charges riders a dime in addition to the base fare each time a new zone is entered. And passengers no longer will be able to transfer from bus to bus or bus to rail for a dime. Instead, riders will have to pay another $1.35 fare or buy an all-day, unlimited bus pass for $3.

In addition, 12 of the 66 bus routes will be discontinued or shortened beginning Feb. 11. MTA officials said that those routes are underused.

MTA spokesman Anthony Brown said yesterday the agency is aware of the complaints, but cannot avoid the fare increases.

"We are legally mandated to recover 50 percent of our operating costs" from fares, he said, adding that the agency postponed the increases twice and reduced them after a series of public hearings late last year.

Mr. Brown refused comment on the allegations of racism, claiming he has not spoken to Ms. Ceci and has no statistics on the racial makeup of MTA ridership.

"We lowered the cost of the weekly pass from $15 to $14," Mr. Brown said, noting that the agency delayed the increase from September 1995 to March 10, 1996, and will raise base fares 10 cents instead of the 15 cents originally proposed.

Ms. Ceci said that during today's protest, announcements will be made regarding future marches and boycotts.

About 10,000 fliers were distributed throughout the city,

organizers said.

The fliers charge that MTA is "racist" because of the impact on African-American riders and say that protesters should come out in force in honor of today's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that he led. The boycott helped launch the civil rights movement.

Organizers say that they are looking at plans to establish a ridership system that would use cars to ferry transit users if a boycott were imposed, as was done in the Montgomery boycott.

Sixth District Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, who supports the protest, charges that the new system makes city riders, who make up 90 percent of the transit ridership, subsidize suburban riders who travel longer distances.

Not all transit critics say they will participate in the protests.

Tom Sunseri, chairman of the MTA citizen advisory committee that monitors the transit system, will stay home today.

"I'm not going to support racial politics," said Mr. Sunseri, who bristles at protesters who call the fare increase racially motivated. "If they were going to just have a protest because [the increase] is stupid, I would be there."

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