Do you take public transit — or complain about how inadequate your local public transportation system is before getting into your car? Whether you’re a regular bus and rail rider or not, I hope you’re attending the community meetings for the public transit system in your neighborhood. At these meetings, you can help shape the transit system you use — so that it slowly becomes something you can get on board if you aren’t an avid rider yet.

Over the weekend, I attended a community meeting for my local bus system in Santa Monica: The Big Blue Bus. There, along with 30 or so neighbors, I found out about new designs for bus stops, new web and tech enhancements that will let riders get realtime information about the buses, and, less happily, pending fare hikes.

A Big Blue Bus community meeting

Unfortunately, like pretty much every other public transportation systems in California, the Big Blue Bus’ projected funding got cut drastically when Governor Schwarzenegger proposed to take a $1 billion away from bus and rail funds — which means transit systems are scrambling to find ways to stay solvent.

That means in Santa Monica, the Big Blue Bus has opted to raise single trip fares from 75 cents to $1.25. Some community members at the meeting were angry about the proposed fare changes — which won’t be official until the Santa Monica City Council considers them in March — but others were angry that the Big Blue Bus didn’t offer more bus service in their neighborhoods. Considering the fact that the transit agency would basically have to cut services if it doesn’t raise its fares, clearly there was no way to please everyone with the reduced state transit funding.

Going to these community meetings often makes me wish that my fellow riders were more involved with local and state politics, perhaps directing their anger at Schwarzenegger and their elected state representatives for cutting public transit funding at the state level versus the local bus system itself, which is basically dealing with the aftermath of state decisions. On the upside, I think going to these community meetings can inspire people to get more involved politically, as they get a clearer sense of how decisions made in Sacramento — or Washington D.C. — directly affect their personal lives.

Getting involved in your community can be challenging at times. For one, you have to make time on an evening when you’re tired after work, or give up some free time on the weekend, to attend the meeting. Then inevitably, you’ll have to patiently listen to your neighbors — many of whom make helpful comments and ask thoughtful questions, but some of whom will inevitably launch into weird harangues. At my community meeting, we had someone launch into a diatribe about a Metro line (totally different bus system) that no longer runs, another who felt compelled to recap the early history of the L.A. transit systems, and a few more who bickered like children over whose raised hand got called on first. The resulting conversations can be annoying — but also entertaining, and at its best times, informative while creating a sense of community and collective purpose.

Do you go to public transit meetings? What encourages you to go — and are your experiences similar to mine?

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