Privatization and the Crisis of Bus Drivers in Santiago

Early in the morning of June 2nd, 2014, Marco Antonio Cuadra walked into a bus depot as he had done for his preceding 25 years as a bus driver in Chile’s sprawling capital city. This morning, however, instead of setting out to cover his routes across Santiago, he doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire, shouting, “This is for the workers! Let it mark a precedent!”  By the time his coworkers grabbed fire extinguishers from their buses and doused the flames, 90% of his body had been severely burned. Waiting for an ambulance to arrive, one of the drivers asked Cuadra why he taken such drastic action. The pained response (as seen in an extremely graphic video uploaded to Youtube): “For our coworkers – because of how [corporate managers] abuse us, how they don’t pay our wages, and how they fire union leaders, but nobody complains. ¿Hasta cuándo?”

Two weeks earlier, Veolia, through its Transdev branch and Chilean subsidiary Redbus, had initiated the firing of Cuadra, a leader of Redbus Union 2. The company claimed he and the treasurer of the Union failed to fulfill “the obligations expressly indicated in their work contract.” Other employees dispute this claim and note that Veolia/Redbus, a private operator for the public Transantiago/Metropolitan Public Transport Directorate, initiated the firing three days before employees were set to present a new collective bargaining plan.

The ambulance took Cuadra to Santiago’s main hospital where he underwent a series of amputations and surgeries as his organs progressively failed over the coming weeks. His wife shared her thoughts in an interview:

A memorial for Marco Cuadra in Central Santiago (picture from Laurel Paget-Seekins)

A memorial for Marco Cuadra in Central Santiago (picture from Laurel Paget-Seekins)

He was distraught because of all the injustice. He was enraged when he saw how [Veolia/Redbus] made the older drivers, and the workers in general, work very late, how the company didn’t respect them, and how they had to use diapers because of the lack of bathrooms and the length of the routes… I pray to God that he’ll come through this so he can tell me what really happened. What I think now, based on what I saw and what his coworkers have told me, is that it was a result of utter frustration, the most extreme frustration that a human being can take.

On June 27, twenty-five days after his act of desperation, Cuadra died from his injuries.
Continue reading ‘Privatization and the Crisis of Bus Drivers in Santiago’

Dinner on the T

More Interstate 710 Extension Discussions

Zócalo Public Square will be hosting what promises to be an interesting forum this week –

The 710 is one of the most important freeways in Southern California. It’s also shorter than originally planned: For nearly 50 years, legal and environmental challenges have stalled the freeway in Alhambra, 4.5 miles short of its intended destination, Pasadena. Over the decades, discussions about extending the freeway have cast its future as a local issue. But the 710 causes traffic, produces pollution, and affects commerce across Los Angeles and even beyond. How broad are these impacts, and what role might the stalled extension play in them? What would the five options now being debated for dealing with the Alhambra-to-Pasadena gap–implementing new surface traffic technology and strategies, new rapid bus transit, light rail transit, a freeway tunnel, or building nothing at all–mean for our region?

The $780 million set aside for the project in Measure R would go a long way towards transit, but most of the alternatives being considered, especially a highway tunnel, would require major additional funding. With Caltrans so heavily involved, and with the clout of port traffic, it’s hard to imagine the advocates of expanding the “concrete commons” won’t win out. Though maybe continued strong community opposition and a winning Braess’s paradox argument could be successful in finally killing the project.

On a related note, the release of draft environmental documents for the project has been pushed back to February 2015.

Mayor Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative

After 100 days in office, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his first executive directive – the Great Streets Initiative. As Marie Sullivan at Metro’s The Source writes, “It was during this speech that I realized, the Mayor is a straight-up Planner!” Indeed, a mayor whose first major announcement mentions Red Cars, bioswales, and WalkScore has me optimistic.

Garcetti asserts, “Design matters…We have ignored the aesthetics of our city too often. But the way a neighborhood looks and feels has a lot to do with its livability and vibrancy.” Aesthetically pleasing street furniture is a good step, and I hope this initiative can help strengthen connected public health, green space, and transit corridor projects.

Irvine Shooting

Police Cruiser

Police Cruiser

Irvine Police were involved in a hostage situation with a  man who shot and killed someone 400 feet from my house today.  That’s the second shooting death in Irvine this year.  Is this the start of Irvine’s transition from suburb to slum?

m4s0n501

ACC Tower Rendering

The American Commerce Center Tower, which will soar above the recently completed Comcast Center in Center City, Philadelphia, passed its last zoning test last week.  When completed, the skyscraper will be the third tallest building in the United States.  It’s great that the developer is stressing SEPTA and AMTRAK accessibility and seeking LEED Gold Certification.  If construction goes as scheduled, the tower should be completed in 2012, the same year as the Cira Center South project.  It’s exciting that Philadelphia is becoming quite a hub of architecture.

Palin Fights Against Environmental Justice in California

The LA Times reported last week that Governor Palin has been working against California SB 974, which would implement per-container charges to fund air quality and goods movement measures in the Los Angeles and Bay areas.  I think it’s a pretty base move (though not that surprising) for the Governor of Alaska to seek to dissuade Californian officials from addressing some of Southern California’s most crippling problems.  The pollution, health, and safety problems caused by the ports is a case of environmental injustice.

The LA Times notes that:

Fully 15% of the nation’s international container trade travels along the 710 en route to rail yards east of Los Angeles, warehouses in the Inland Empire and importers nationwide.

Environmental justice communities near the ports and along freeway corridors should not have to bear the unmitigated harms of the nation’s cargo needs.

Today’s strategies of goods movement in Southern California, especially through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, are dangerous and inefficient.  Traffic congestion on local freeways, particularly the 5, 10, 15, 60, and 710 is significantly worsened by truck traffic from the ports.  Truck traffic from the ports creates safety hazards for drivers; an example is a seven vehicle fatal crash on the 710 last year.  As shown by last week’s train crash, Southern California railroads may also need to consider better and safer ways to move rail cargo on tracks that are increasingly being used for heavy commuter rail traffic.  Additionally, the pollution emanating from the ports leads to disproportionate health problems in lower income communities of color; the Times article above explains that literally thousands of Californians die each year as a result of pollutant emissions from the ports.

The bill (full text available here) recognizes that:

(b) The operation of the ports and trains, ships, and trucks that move cargo containers to and from the ports cause air pollution that requires mitigation.
(c) The improvement of goods movement infrastructure would benefit the owners of container cargo moving through the ports by allowing the owners of the cargo to move container cargo more efficiently and reliably, and to move more cargo through those ports.
(d) It is vital to the movement of goods in California, especially
in southern California, to resolve the road and rail conflicts of locomotives carrying container cargo and automobile traffic by
building grade separations. This infrastructure will reduce air
pollution and provide benefits to the owners of container cargo by
mitigating rail expansion. Without these grade separations, the rail
expansion may not happen, and California could lose valuable goods movement jobs.
(e) The reduction of goods movement air pollution would benefit
the owners of container cargo moving through the ports by contributing to the achievement or maintenance of federal air quality standards, which will allow for continued federal funding of goods movement infrastructure projects.
(f) The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the Port of Oakland operate in unique communities, environments, and markets that require infrastructure improvements and air pollution reduction measures tailored to the nature and degree of need in each port of each community.

Governor Palin’s argument against the bill completely disregards the public health, environmental justice, traffic congestion, safety, and environmental concerns of California.

It Wasn’t Me

Even though I was still in Southern California when this bus was stolen, I promise I had nothing to do with it.