CALPIRG Moves for Diversion of Funds

Irvine’s drivers may soon share the road with trolleys and other light-rail vehicles. Last week, UC Irvine’s California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG) chapter intensified its campaign for alternative forms of transportation.

Despite the faltering economy, the city’s current tax rates are capable of sustaining the new program, stated Aysha Cohen, a fourth-year psychology major and coordinator for the Sustainable Transit Campaign.

“We don’t want an increase in taxes; we simply want a greater percentage of it toward public transit,” Cohen said. “Our public transportation is pretty inefficient, and it’s not very cost ineffective.”

Last Tuesday, Cohen went to the headquarters of the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), which is located in the city of Orange. Cohen traveled by bus and demonstrated the inefficiency of the public transit system as trip to the OCTA headquarters from Irvine took two hours when Google Maps suggested a traveling time of 12 minutes by car.

Cohen delineated her plan before the panel of OCTA officials. Cohen’s proposed route would connect residential areas to business and commercial districts, unlike the currently proposed Fixed Guideway Program that would service mainly the southern commercial district on the outskirts of the city.

Ariel Shlager, a fourth-year Japanese major and fellow CalPIRG member, helped Cohen put together an online petition to submit to Congress. As an OCTA patron himself, Shlager has tried to address the problems with OCTA’s current program.

“A light rail is definitely [more] efficient,” Shlager said. “They travel quicker [than a bus]. And they’re constantly coming, so you don’t have to have to worry if you miss it. As a public transit user myself, these are the things I think about.”

Cohen also invited petition signers to weigh in on the topic. Many of these individuals voiced similar complaints to Shlager and expressed frustration with the slow pace and cumbersome process associated with public transportation.

According to Cohen, one of the key aspects of the plan would be a financial surveillance system to monitor the use of the money. This concern stems from a past experience in which an allocated subway fund was spent on alternate forms of transportation.

“We need to spend wisely,” Cohen said, “with appropriate oversight of the money. In 1990, voters approved of a plan to build a subway through Orange County. That $340 million originally allocated for a thirty-mile subway/light rail system was diverted to other programs instead.”

Proponents of the plan stated that it would generate revenue for the city by promoting the redevelopment of downtowns around station stops.

Shlager is optimistic about the success of the program.

“I’ve gotten a positive response from the people around me,” Shlager said. “I think one complaint many people have about Irvine is that everything is so far apart. And as college students, we’re trying to stretch a dollar and trying to find the most convenient way to do things.”

Cohen plans to take the proposal to the city government and expects to win its endorsement. The petition will be sent to Congress in the Fall as part of a nationwide effort to balance the 2010 Transportation Funding Bill