In a move certain to be cheered by key parts of the electorate, Mayor Tom Bradley moved Wednesday to set aside $3 million in city-controlled transit tax funds to subsidize continuation of low bus fares for the elderly and disabled.
Flanked by political allies on the Los Angeles City Council and Southern California Rapid Transit District board, the mayor announced the plan at a press conference at an RTD bus stop in front of City Hall.
"We believe the seniors of the city and the disabled deserve to ride the RTD buses at discount fares," Bradley said.
Then the council members--President Pat Russell, Howard Finn and Zev Yaroslavsky--walked into City Hall for a council Transportation and Traffic Committee meeting at which Bradley's plan was approved.
Although his campaign for a fourth term was not mentioned during the press conference, the move had strong political advantages for the mayor.
The importance of the issue extends far beyond the more than 57,000 elderly and 12,000 handicapped who hold bus passes.
The elderly are especially important to Bradley's campaign. They are a major part of the electorate in every section of the city except in the single-family home areas of the San Fernando Valley. Seniors, political experts say, are high-turnout voters, crucial in an election in which the turnout may not be high. In the April 9 city election, for which some analysts are estimating the turnout of 45%, the elderly could have voting power far beyond their numbers.
Noreen Vincent, Bradley's director of programs for the handicapped, said there are about 500,000 handicapped people in Los Angeles.
By acting Monday, the mayor sought to avoid an embarrassing demonstration of senior and handicapped political power that could hurt him. On Feb. 2, the RTD board is scheduled to hold a hearing on expected fare hikes. In the past, the elderly and handicapped have been the strongest opponents of fare increases and, by announcing his plan now, Bradley may have taken the steam out of protests, according to RTD Board President Nicholas Patsaouras.
The announcement also demonstrated the political advantages of Bradley's incumbency and his ability to use it to dominate the news.
It was his third news event in three days, and he has another scheduled today, a news conference on an education plan. It will be held at a South-Central Los Angeles elementary school before he flies to Monterey to speak to a statewide educational meeting.
His main opponent, Councilman John Ferraro, held a news conference Monday to attack Bradley on the transit issue, but he has been silent since.
The subsidy plan still requires full council approval. It would allocate $3 million from the city's share of the 1-cent countywide transit sales tax to finance the $4-a-month elderly and handicapped bus pass. Regular RTD bus passes sell for $20 to $55, depending on the route.
The present 50-cent fare, along with discounts for handicapped, the elderly and students, are scheduled to end next summer. They have been supported by funds from the sales tax, approved by the voters three years ago. Under terms of the measure, that subsidy will be reduced by at least $38 million, requiring a fare increase.
Los Angeles has collected more than $25 million from its share of the sales tax and the total will reach $28 million next year, city officials said.
The money is intended to finance mass transit projects, such as van pools, the minibus, the proposed Metro Rail subway and light-rail construction projects.
Bradley said the $3 million to subsidize fares for the elderly and handicapped will come from unallocated transit funds, which eventually would be used for Metro Rail and other transit projects.
The subsidized fare passes would be available only to Los Angeles residents. Bradley urged other cities in the transit district to use their transit tax money for such subsidies.