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Agricultural Worker Health Project

A Project of California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) and California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF)

Generous funding provided by The California Endowment
 
 
 
Farmworker Transportation
 
 

Agricultural workers continue to face dangerous conditions on their way to work everyday due to the limited transit options that are currently available to them. Because the average annual income for agricultural workers is $11,525, many face serious financial constraints that limit their ability to afford a car, insurance, maintenance and fuel. In addition, well over half of all farm workers in California lack proper immigration documents and are ineligible for a driver’s license. Nonetheless, 39% of all agricultural workers still drive their own vehicle, with or without a license.

Due to these and other constraints, 28% ride with others, and 4% ride in a bus, truck, or van provided by their employer. Twenty-seven percent (27%) ride with a raitero. Farm workers who ride with others, or especially raiteros, are often subject to outrageous and inconsistent charges, dangerous driving, and unreliable and unsafe vehicles. In 1999, a series of tragic accidents in the Central Valley brought statewide attention to the unsafe transit options that exist for agricultural workers.

Awaiting a ride. Photo by David Bacon.  

First on August 9, 1999, a van transporting 13 farm workers collided with a semi-truck near Five Points, a rural intersection in West Fresno County. All 13 workers died. Most of the victims rode on three bare benches in the back of the van. The workers were not wearing seatbelts. Just one month later, on September 10, 1999, thirteen workers were injured or killed south of Fresno when an unlicensed van driver failed to stop for a posted stop sign and collided with another car. The van had seven seats – all with seatbelts – but four more people were seated on the floor. Their deaths brought the number of farm workers killed since 1994 while riding aboard farm labor transportation vehicles to sixty-three. At the time of these incidents 45% of work-related fatalities in agriculture were related to vehicles. As a result, the State legislature approved AB 1165 (Florez) and AB 555 (Reyes) which established strict farm labor vehicle certification requirements, including seatbelts for every passenger. Nearly two million dollars were appropriated to the California Highway Patrol for the CHP Farm Labor Vehicle Inspection & Certification Program to enforce these and other transportation safety laws. Although this program has provided greater enforcement of existing transportation safety laws for farm workers, it does not resolve the core problem for farm worker transportation, namely a safe alternative.

A SAFE AND AFFORDABLE ALTERNATIVE

In 2000, Congress acted to provide safer transportation options for farm workers by appropriating $4 million for innovative programs to address the unique transit needs of this significant population. The pilot was targeted at Fresno, Kern, Kings, and Tulare Counties, with a matching $4 million from the State Public Transportation Account. From these resources, Kings County Area Public Transit Agency (KCAPTA) received $5.8 million and, through trial and error and a strong commitment to provide safe and affordable transit alternatives for agricultural workers, KCAPTA launched the Agricultural Industries Transportation Services (AITS) in April of 2002 with 123 new 15-passenger vans. AITS has succeeded in providing a safe and affordable alternative to help meet a significant amount of the transit needs of agricultural workers in their service area. This innovative transit system is a model that can be replicated across agricultural areas of the State and nationwide. In 2006, the State legislature approved a $20-million grant for more farm worker transportation projects to help meet the transit needs of farmworkers. AWHP advocates educate individuals and communities about their right to safe transportation and work with local governments and transit agencies to bring better and safer transportation options to farm workers.

 
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