What the FAX? BMoC’s Fight to Improve Fresno’s Bus System

yli is My Story

Ever ride the bus?

When you take the Fresno Area Express (FAX), a would-be 20-minute car ride can easily turn into a 2 ½ journey depending on the bus route you take. Riders can wait up to an hour along certain routes, and the frequent stops all add up. Turns out, there’s nothing “Express” about it.

It makes sense why some people just drive where they need to go, or pay the extra few dollars for an Uber or Lyft. But not everyone can afford it. The dollars pile up fast when you need to get to work every day. It’s just simple, brutal logic that those folks who rely on the bus are just the ones who can least afford to pay extra to shorten their commute. That means fewer hours in the day to spend with loved ones, to rest, to get ready for the next day. We all know how precious those hours are.

So what do you do if you have to spend those extra hours on a bus? Get some work done, do some homework, catch up on emails, check your Facebook or Instagram. Unfortunately, FAX — unlike other county bus systems — doesn’t have WiFi. So there’s that.

Luckily, these are problems that can be fixed. Routes can be revised, more buses can be put on the routes with the highest ridership, WiFi can be installed. And right now, FAX is developing their budget for the next year. It’s the perfect time to do it.

Isn’t it?

What the FAX Campaign

The truth is that it has been an uphill battle. The Fresno Boys & Men of Color (BMoC) have been advocating for these common sense changes since last September when, on one pivotal day, a member of the group decided to take the bus to the weekly meeting. He walked into the meeting late, hot, exhausted. He doesn’t take the bus often, but knows people who do. And it just didn’t seem fair. Thus, the #WhatTheFax bus campaign was born (you can read the full account of how it was launched here).

Since then, BMoC youth have been riding the buses — to school, to work, to meetings — and recording their experiences. They have met with City Council members and reached out to FAX representatives. They have researched other county bus systems, distributed surveys to better understand community needs, and, in partnership with Womxn Empowered and Fresno Building Healthy Communities, hosted live twitter meetings to raise local awareness of the issues.

Their work has been crucial. FAX has been running its own surveys and public meetings. But they have often failed to direct their outreach efforts at actual bus riders. That’s right. They have been spending money to get critical feedback on how the buses should run from people who do not ride the bus. It’s true, the folks who ride the bus have less time to show up to these kinds of meetings (just maybe because they spend so much time on the bus?). But, what the FAX?

In June, the City of Fresno began their budget hearings in all departments. This basically means that they will be setting budgets on all projects that will be implemented in the next year. On June 12th, they showed up to the meeting to offer public comment. Youth leaders Efrain Botello and Marco Sanchez shared findings from their survey and made their requests for increased bus frequency along routes with high ridership and WiFi.

FAX seemed to be on board with increasing bus frequency, but hadn’t even looked into WiFi — it hadn’t come up on their surveys. They argued that youth would use up all the data checking their social media accounts.

Here is where BMoC’s many months of work, multiple meetings, data collection,and emailing paid off: the Council members spoke up in defense of WiFi. They wanted to know how much would it cost (FAX didn’t have the answer).  Drawing on BMoC’s research, they pointed out that other counties had such systems. And, if it gets youth on the bus, they asked, isn’t that the point? The whole idea is to increase ridership, and increasing numbers of young people are using Uber and Lyft because they are more convenient.

Here We Come

With pressure building from the community and from City Council, BMoC is not about to let up. This coming Thursday, June 28th, FAX will be hosting a public workshop in which they will present their updated plan with revised routes to City Council. BMoC youth are planning to show up en force to show that they are watching FAX’s every move…and that they won’t give up until their voices are heard!