Jovanka’s 2021 Year in Review

Jovanka’s 2021 Year in Review

As the year comes to a close, I am reflecting on just how tumultuous and heartbreaking 2021 was for so many of us. BIPOC and poor people (often one and the same) were hit disproportionately hard. We weathered the storm, but not without some serious repercussions. And yes, there were victories as well! 

Over a year ago, I was elected to the AC Transit Board of Directors. Even with the challenges of the pandemic, we succeeded in beating a 20-year incumbent. We were backed by both the Alameda and Contra Costa Labor Councils, the AC Transit workers unions, committed community organizations such as East Bay Democratic Socialists of America, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Black Women Organized for Political Action, and many dedicated environmental organizations including the Sunrise Movement Bay Area.

I am grateful for my magnificent team and for each and every person who recognizes that transit justice is essential. I am grateful to my fellow board members, @ACtransit workers, and AC transit riders for all playing a role in this work. I am grateful for organizers like those in @peopletransit because organizing gets the goods!

Since being sworn into office, I hit the ground running. In December of 2020, I was surprised to learn that there is very little accountability of AC Transit’s multi-million dollar contracts with the Alameda and Contra Costa County Sheriff agencies. These contracts continue to go up in price, and there is almost no substantiation as to the work performed in relation to the cost. Workers and riders have testified to delayed response times and a lack of Sheriff services. I fought hard against indiscriminately handing more money to the Sheriff - it does not lead to increased safety. Instead, we need greater oversight and accountability of the Sheriff. I support the broader public demand for a reduction in law enforcement spending, which arose as a result of the historic Black Lives Matter protests. With many concerns from the community, I successfully motioned for an independent audit of the Contra Costa contract. I will continue to fight to reduce the cost of these contracts when they come up for renegotiation, while at the same time prioritizing safety for workers and riders.

In January of 2021, AC Transit had no timeline to bring back service to its original pre-pandemic levels. Restoration of service is a top issue, one which I have fought for repeatedly. After months of grassroots pressure, AC Transit is now planning to restore pre-pandemic levels by 2024, before comparable Bay Area transit agencies. Within the last Fiscal Year budget, service recovery was made the number one budget priority - as it should be!

In February 2021, staff provided an update on our bus fleet. AC Transit already had one of the largest Zero Emission bus programs in the world when I entered office. I am pleased to say AC Transit ordered over 40 Zero Emission buses (20 Fuel Cell, 21 Battery Electric), and we’re on schedule for a full Zero Emission Bus fleet by 2040.

In March 2021, we learned Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act. This bill gave $1.7 billion to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to be spent rapidly to protect public transit systems. However, the MTC tried to delay spending it in the Bay Area, publicly stating that they would save these emergency funds for a “rainy day”. After continued pressure from transit workers and riders, I spoke at a rally held on May 6, demanding MTC release the funds to transit agencies.

In 2020, due to the pandemic, AC Transit made the bus free for a limited time. In April 2021, in the middle of a homelessness emergency along with pandemic state of emergency, I had staff research ways to address unhoused residents on buses. In addition, I had staff research using the savings from going cashless to make AC Transit free for the lowest income riders (who pay cash, and thus would be excluded from AC Transit in a cashless system). For the benefit of the people and the planet, we must move to a fare free system.

In May 2021, I was proud to stand with every other member of the board to defer a scheduled fare increase for a whole year. AC Transit is already expensive for working people, and it makes no sense to increase fares when we are trying to lure riders back.

In June 2021, there was a proposal to decrease COVID-19 social distancing and pack more people on the bus during the pandemic. I was one of the few who did not support this, as it would put the health and safety of workers and riders at risk. I successfully motioned to delay the reduction of social distancing.

In July 2021, I successfully advocated to get our board to direct staff to negotiate hazard pay as our AC Transit workers are essential workers!

In September 2021, I successfully advocated for “the formation of an AC Transit/City of Richmond Inter-Agency Liaison Committee” to give the People of Richmond a voice on AC Transit.

In October 2021, I advocated for all-door boarding on our buses to increase ease of boarding, as well as route speed. In addition, I fought against the continued outsourcing of a core function of AC Transit: the cleaning and maintenance of our bus shelters. You have probably come across dirty and broken shelters, which were poorly maintained by a third party. The only solution is to take this work in-house - where AC Transit will have more oversight and control. Our shelters will be better maintained, and this will create good union jobs for our communities. In addition, I directed staff to implement further measures to increase vaccination rates of our employees. Finally, our resolution, “supporting the concept of municipally funded transit trips,” successfully passed. We met with representatives from the City of Berkeley who are exploring and have begun preliminary discussions with AC Transit about how a broader free transit pilot could operate.

In November 2021, I voted to defer fare increases as we work on welcoming back more riders. I also advocated for the Pilot Program Offering Free AC Transit on Sundays in Berkeley, introduced by Councilmember Kate Harrison.

In December 2021, I advocated for a tax on Uber/Lyft as a potential revenue generating ballot measure.

Throughout the year, we receive a “Monthly Legislative Report.” I’ve supported important state legislation to support our riders and communities that was passed and signed into law such as: AB 149 (state budget bill that brings relief to Transit Agencies as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic); SB 2 (decertifies law enforcement for misconduct introduced by Senator Steven Bradford) and SB 16 (having more police records to be publicly disclosed introduced by Senator Nancy Skinner) to hold law enforcement accountable and bring justice to our communities. Finally, I strongly support AB 455, which will implement a Bus Lane on the Bay Bridge.

There are of course more fights ahead! Our people powered movement does not take a single penny from corporations or special interest groups. Please consider supporting my work by donating here, and you can sign up for updates about my work on my website

May this coming year be filled with love, peace, safety and good health to you and yours!