SLIDE SHOW: Transit Initiative on November Ballot

BY ALEXIA UNDERWOOD //  (SEE VIDEO SLIDE SHOW BELOW)

Rising fuel prices and a worsening economy are affecting everybody – including the local bus system.

AC Transit, reeling from a $20 million budget shortfall, has introduced a parcel tax initiative that will appear on the November ballot for residents of El Cerrito and neighboring communities.

“The critical thing is the price of fuel.  That’s driving our operating costs out of sight,” said Jim Gleich, AC Transit Deputy General Manager.

The initiative, also known as Measure VV, would increase residents’ property tax by four dollars each month.

In March, the AC Transit board was considering raising fares to finance the deficit.  Special fares for the elderly, the disabled, and youth would have been raised significantly.

Gleich knew the community was interested in alternative options when he noticed “people showing up at our board meetings, pleading with our board not to increase fares.”

Urban Habitat, an environmental justice organization, got involved at this point. They convened a “transportation justice working group” after polling showed support for the increase of a parcel tax in lieu of the fare changes.

“It’s a core social justice issue,” said Bob Allen, director of transportation and housing issues at Urban Habitat. “Kids need to get to school.”

After meeting with the community, the AC Transit Board of Directors decided to put Measure VV on the ballot and “defer any consideration of fare increases until after the November election,” said Gleich.

The El Cerrito City Council endorsed the AC Transit Parcel Tax initiative in August.

Local opinion is mixed.

“We keep paying – and what do they do with the money?  This time we need to say no,” said Merrilie Mitchell, a Berkeley activist who has been involved in transportation issues since before 2002.

Measure VV “won’t solve the problem, but it will make a huge impact on low-income communities,” said Allen.

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