LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Metro riders were joined by local clergy today to call on Mayor Eric Garcetti and the transportation agency's board to reject a  set of proposed fare hikes they believe would hurt 500,000 low-income bus and  rail riders, most of whom are women.

“We need them to announce their opposition today,” the Rev. Juan Carlos Mendez, a South Gate pastor, said. “This is a clear issue of civil and human rights.”

A coalition of religious leaders, led by Mendez and calling themselves Concerned Clergy Against the Fare Increase, gathered on the steps of Los  AngelesCity Hall to urge the public to pressure Garcetti, county supervisors  and others on the 13-member Metro board to vote against the hike proposals at their meeting Thursday.

One of two plans being considered by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board would increase the base fare for buses and trains from $1.50 to $1.75 by September. The fare would then increase to $2 in 2017 and to $2.25 in 2020.

The peak-hour fare for disabled and senior riders would increase from 55 cents to $1.10 by 2020 under both plans.

Metro officials have said the hikes are needed to help erase a $36 million projected shortfall in fiscal 2016-17.

Bus rider Rosa Posadas called the proposed hikes “worrisome.”

Mendez said the price hikes would “devastate” the poorest Metro bus and rail users, who number about 500,000 and are part of households with incomes less than $15,000 a year.

Of those riding buses, 60 percent are women, and 90 percent are black, Hispanic and Asian Pacific Islanders, according to the coalition's figures.

Mendez said the public should appeal to “our dear friend Mayor Garcetti,” county supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina, and three mayoral appointees to the board.

Only five votes are needed to defeat the fare proposals on Thursday, according to members of the coalition.

The mayor “has told us that he is standing with the community, but we ask him to come out publicly in support of the community,” he said.

The Mayor's Office declined to comment on Garcetti's position on the fare hikes prior the vote, but aides said the mayor met with a group called the Bus Riders Union in March and has been in “ongoing communication with them as recently as this week.”

The Bus Riders Union, a group that successfully sued Metro in 1994 for violating the civil rights of bus riders, worked with Mendez and other clergy in organizing today's protest against the fare hikes.

Mayoral spokesman Yusef Robb said the mayor “wants to make sure L.A. has the best possible transit system for the so many Angelenos who depend on it, and that includes better service and fairness when it comes to fares.”

The Metro board on Thursday is also expected to consider a motion -- authored by Garcetti, Ridley-Thomas and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky -- that asks, among other things, for the appointment of a “riders' advocate”  and the formation of a “Transit Ridership Best Practices Task Force.”

The hikes proposed for 2017 and 2020 should be postponed until the task force convenes, and student fares would be kept at the current rate until “further evaluation” by the task force, according to the motion.

Mendez said Metro also needs to halt its “racially discriminatory practices of stopping and frisking MTA passengers on the MTA buses and trains.”

Another coalition member, Pastor Q of Skid Row's Church Without Walls, wondered how Metro is unable to “find $36 million” in an overall budget of $5 billion. 

“We can't continue to balance the budget on the backs of the poor,” he said. 

Metro spokesman Paul Gonzales said the agency has “among the lowest fare rates of any major transportation agency in the world.”  

“We've done everything that an agency can do” to cut costs, including reducing the number of non-contracted workers and “we have adjusted our services to be the most efficient it can be.”