Transit Torment

It all began a minute past midnight on Sat., Sept. 16, with a negotiations breakdown between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and bus and rail operator unions. Hundreds of thousands of L.A. commuters, many of whom depend on city buses for their livelihood, were forced to find alternative methods of transportation. Among the nearly 450,000 bus passengers affected by the strike are members of the Jewish community, particularly some senior citizens for whom everyday life has been disrupted.

On Fairfax Avenue, a cursory poll of how seniors were coping with this strike revealed many who were either directly or indirectly inconvenienced.

“Absolutely,” says an older gentleman coming out of Fairfax Stationery, walking with the aid of a cane. “I have to walk around everywhere. I can’t get any place.”

Trembling with emotion, the man, who preferred not to be identified, says that he is dependent on the MTA system, particularly the Fairfax 217 and Melrose 10 lines, to do his weekly errands. While the limited DASH system has come in handy for many seeking transportation, in his case it is not as convenient as the city bus, since the DASH bus turns off at Third Street.

At agencies assisting lower-income Jews, viewpoints vary on the strike’s impact. Some organizations report a decline in activity.

“We have a meal site where they can come in for lunch five days a week,” reports Sandra Solomon, director of the Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center in the Fairfax district. “We’re getting less people than usual. The attendance there is down.”

Rosalie Fromberg, director of the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center on Venice’s Ocean Front Walk, confirms a similar situation.

“We have people who come on a regular basis for lunch and can’t get here,” says Fromberg. “They come down for lunch and activities as well.”

Solomon has been offering taxi vouchers for some seniors, but this is a temporary and finite solution for the center and its limited resources. “We’re helping with transportation as best we can,” she says.

At Israel Levin, many coming from the L.A. area depend on buses. Some are carpooling, but Fromberg says that “it’s hard when people don’t live in the same area. This center does not provide transportation, so it’s really difficult. People at the center are concerned that it’s really affecting the community. Our seniors don’t have to worry about going to work, but their contact with our center is very important to them.”

Margaret Dacey, director of the Valley Storefront Adult Day Health Care Center, says, “We’ve had a lot of people not being able to get where they’re going. A woman called a taxi that takes coupons, and when the driver came, he wouldn’t take the coupon and would only take her a quarter of the way home, as long as her cash would take her. She got a ride the rest of the way home from a good Samaritan.”

Dacey adds that long waits for cabs have complicated matters.

“With our staff it’s affected us in that quite a few people have been car pooling or getting rides from family,” said Shelly Ryan, chief of human resources for Jewish Home for the Aging. Out of the 650 people employed by the Home’s two sites, only one employee, who lives in the outskirts of Glendale, has been forced to stay home.

“Out of 650 people, to only have one employee be affected is a very good thing,” said Ryan, who also adds that the staff has been very diligent about finding transit solutions to the strike.

“It shows their dedication to coming in and being here,” she said.

Staff at other institutions say that the MTA strike has had little effect on their daily operations. According to Pamela Boro, director of the Silverlake Los Feliz JCC, the strike has not been an issue, nor has it caused stress for those utilizing Jewish Family Service of Santa Monica.

“I know that a lot of our clients do rely on buses to get to their appointments,” said Paul Castro, director of Jewish Family Service of Greater Los Angeles, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “I haven’t specifically heard any feedback from our facilities. I know that it’s got to be an issue, particularly for our senior clients.”

Si Frumkin, chairman of Southern California Council for Soviet Jews, says that he is not aware of people within L.A.’s Russian community whose lives have been disrupted by the strike. He speculates that most Russian seniors reside in close-knit circles where everything is in walking distance.

“Those who live in West Hollywood, their cultural life is Plummer Park and stores on Santa Monica Boulevard,” says Frumkin.

However, Alla Feldman, project coordinator of the Immigrant Department at The Jewish Federation, found that some Russian immigrants have experienced difficulty this holiday season.

“I had people who would come to pick up High Holiday tickets,” said Feldman. “I had to drop them back.”Feldman said that recent immigrants and senior citizens are the two groups within her Russian constituents that have been most directly sidelined by the strike. She even knows of one family that “refused to go to High Holiday services because bus line No. 4 doesn’t go there.”

Elliott Cavalier, the recently appointed director of Sephardic Educational Center, said that elderly members of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel’s sisterhood have often been grounded by the strike.

Meanwhile, back on Fairfax Ave., in the hours leading up to erev Rosh Hashanah, Diamond Bakery was packed with a kind of ebullient chaos. Yet amid the high spirits and high-strung kvetching for apple turnovers and raisin challah, there were those who looked especially weary of preholiday shopping.A 69-year-old lady – no. 44 in line to be served – said the strike since the strike began, she has had no choice but to drive across town to pick up her housekeeper herself.

“I really think it’s criminal,” the woman said as she exited the bakery.