Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Muni Fare Strike: A Synthetic Crisis

Progressives and the fringe political left---they are often one and the same in SF--seem to think that all they have to do on political issues is make a crude class analysis: Is it good or bad for the poor and working people? This may be a good place to start on some issues, like the Living Wage and housing. But on other issues, like the planned Muni fare strike on Thursday, there are other considerations, like fiscal reality, for example. Like every other city agency, Muni was facing a budget deficit this year---$57 million, to be exact. This context for raising fares and cutting service is rarely mentioned by David Tornheim, Casey Mills and others who support the fare strike. Instead, the implication seems to be that Muni is raising fares and cutting service to oppress poor and working people in SF, because, well, that's just what large institutions do.

As a member of the working class, I find the condescension to working people annoying. Why shouldn't working people pay a reasonable fare for riding the bus? In reality, people who rely on Muni buy fast passes, the price of which is not being raised.

Other relevant numbers ignored and/or denigrated by the fare strikers: The 25 cent fare hike will make riding Muni cost $1.50, which is still cheaper than Chicago ($1.75), New York ($2.00), and Portland ($1.65). And the price of a fast pass in SF ($45)---which is not being raised---is still much cheaper than fast passes are in Chicago ($75), New York ($70), and Portland ($60).

The protesters routinely exaggerate the impact of the fare hikes:

These hikes and cuts have caused and will cause tremendous hardship to poor and working class individuals and families. Children unable to get to school, working people unable to get to their jobs, and disabled people and seniors unable to get to their friends and families represent just a few of the possible results of these unjust measures ("Muni Fare HIkes, Service Cuts Could be stopped at State Level," BeyondChron, Casey Mills).

"Possible," perhaps, but not probable, considering that the fare hike is only 25 cents.

Casey Mills in BeyondChron back in February: "The fight to stop fare hikes will be an uphill battle. Activists face a problem brought about by years of negligence and poor decisions that must be decided quickly. But it is a battle that, with commitment and creativity, can be won." Actually, Muni's budget problems are the result of the dotcom bust and the recession triggered by 9/11, along with high fuel prices.

Some fare strikers are delusional about the significance of their "movement": "In 1955, Rosa Parks made history by refusing to sit in the back of the bus. Today, San Francisco Muni riders are making history by demanding the right to stay on the bus. If not now, when?" ("Muni to SF: Pay More, Wait Longer, Keep Quiet," Marc Norton, BeyondChron).

The answer: When there's a social crisis important enough to justify civil disobedience.

Muni raising the fare 25 cents doesn't begin to rise to that level.

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