Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Encouraging The Bus Riders Union & Move San Diego

According to the website dedicated to advancing the cause of universally accessible transportation in San Diego,
"San Diegans pay 66% higher cash bus fares than transit riders in similarly sized cities. We also pay 25% more for monthly transit passes than transit riders in similarly sized cities. Yet, San Diego's transit is struggling -- we pay the highest fares but don't have the best transit system."

Recently I noticed that TRU (the Bus Riders' Union) had created Move San Diego and I initiated correspondence:

(Excerpt from Letter)
Dear Members of Move San Diego,

At the outset, I want to congratulate all of the transit riders in the union, for sustaining the energy and gathering the resources necessary to achieve this stage of organizational development. Additionally, I wish to express my genuine excitement about your next step, addressing public transportation in San Diego as one of the city's most significant, "cross-cutting" community issues. (I elaborate below.)

What’s good about now for *Move San Diego*?
As recent elections indicate, San Diegans want and appreciate fresh, creative energy right now. This is a great context for initiating a multi-dimensional, single issue campaign that offers Move San Diego as part of the solution. While monies may not be flowing so easily, this atmosphere of public receptiveness to novel solutions should be celebrated productively to create awareness and raise consciousness, both inside and outside political circles. It’s a great time to do two things, utilize our greatest asset, all of the bus riders, and to offer help to our public officials. For example, as they try to stretch the budget, our public officials are especially amenable to organizing approaches that make use of people power, untapped federal or state resources, assistance from other officials and allies, and novel ways to attract all of these through community involvement, etc.

How do we become the “go to” organization in public transportation reform?

The recent extension of TransNet by voters teaches us that transportation is recognized already as a significant community concern by the broader public. (San Diegans don’t pay taxes for non-issues.) So what’s the problem? San Diego’s long term infrastructure challenges continue to preempt any genuinely visionary regional transit solutions, because other needs, such as rural roads, are always perceived as more crucial. Why? Because transit riders are not at the table.

In the moments that matter, such as the forming of regional task forces and drafting community benefits agreements, transportation reform activists (bus riders, walkers, cyclists & allies) need to be recognized for the crucial contributions we make to community efforts to improve life for all San Diegans! In addition to being a political constituency that should be served, not underserved, by our officials, we need to make ourselves known, even indispensable to our “could-be” allies—i.e., other community and advocacy groups, environmentalists, and pro-worker groups such as unions, etc.

How do we get San Diegans to prioritize public transportation?

If we scrutinize recent history for campaigns that successfully address long-term, regional issues, affordable housing provides a nice example. Everyone knew there was a problem, but when policy research, specifically a household poll, demonstrated that the lack of affordable housing adversely impacted every family in the region, renters and homeowners alike, the Mayor declared a crisis! Furthermore, when all of the “players,” public and private, understood that this was more than merely an annoyance, rather, this was a deep social problem, cross-cutting all San Diegan communities regardless of class and ethnicity, the need to work regionally, strategically and through coalitions was transparent. Educating the public, then, both changes our understanding of the problem as well as the perceptions held by public officials, who are necessarily informed by public opinion!

It seems to me that to increase the ability of *Move San Diego* to address transportation reform, we will need to simplify it as a single issue. Simultaneously, we will need a comprehensive strategy to become the most recognized “go-to” name in transportation reform in San Diego. This is the perfect moment. Access to public transportation is fundamental to a democratic, metropolitan society like ours.

Again, I say, “let's make *Move San Diego*, the "go to" organization for public transportation reform!

Ride On!
Sincerely, Transit Mulatta (Of Course!)

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