Unprecedented Findings of Civil Rights Violations in Federal Audit of Los Angeles Metro
by Sunyoung Yang on Tuesday, December 13, 2011
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has found unprecedented levels of racially discriminatory impacts in its civil rights audit of LA Metro, the second largest transit agency in the country. These findings represent the most serious civil rights compliance deficiencies by an agency in at least a decade. By finding Metro "deficient" in 5 of 12 civil rights categories, FTA went beyond its more typical findings of procedural 'deficiencies' to also find that Metro ignored evidence that its transit service cuts had a discriminatory impact on riders of color.
Across the country, regional transit agencies raising fares or cutting service to face increased federal scrutiny
The Obama Administration has made compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 a priority for federally funded agencies. Following this directive, FTA has taken the lead as regional transit agencies across the country are raising fares and cutting transit service in response to severe operating budget shortfalls, even while they face record demand for public transit. In 2011, FTA selected only one other agency in the entire country to receive this level of scrutiny, Atlanta's MARTA. Even with this level of scrutiny, most reviews normally focus only on procedural deficiencies in complying with civil rights law, whereas substantive racial discrimination ("disparate impact") was found in the case of LA Metro.
In case of LA Metro, FTA report reveals racially discriminatory impacts, disregard for federal civil rights law
The report reveals that Metro knowingly moved forward with major transit service cuts that its own staff knew to be racially discriminatory on multiple occasions. In other instances, Metro went ahead with a wide range of policies--including bus service cuts and construction projects--in flagrant disregard for federal civil rights law by either failing to conduct or conducting in a severely deficient manner the most basic tests required by law to determine if their policies would have discriminatory impacts on their ridership.
The result for 100,000s of bus riders in L.A. has been major barriers to economic survival-including access to jobs, education, and health care-in one of the cities hardest hit by the economic crisis. This crisis was documented in Transit Civil Rights and Economic Survival in Los Angeles: A Case for Federal Intervention in L.A. Metro , a report issued by 14 organizations.
Los Angeles Metro budget increased by $1B while slashing bus service for low-income riders of color
Like many urban regions, LA Metro's ridership is overwhelmingly low-income and people of color. What makes LA Metro unique, is that while other agencies in Los Angeles suffer from real deficits, Metro's budget has ballooned by over $1B during precisely the period that they implemented devastating service cuts and fare increases for their low-income and people of color ridership.
Legal significance of FTA Report: "This is BART times ten"
Richard Marcantonio, managing attorney for Public Advocates Inc. and a national expert on transportation civil rights enforcement, describes the significance of FTA's findings on LA Metro.
"FTA's findings are a damning indictment. The strongest compliance findings we had seen from FTA previously were last year against BART. The BART findings sent shock waves across the country. This is BART times ten."
In the Bay Area, FTA previously found that BART's Oakland airport tram
did not meet civil rights requirements, causing the agency to lose $70M
in federal stimulus funds and leading to a shakeup in the agency.
Will FTA hold Metro accountable? How will Mayor Villaraigosa Respond?
LA Metro signed a civil rights consent decree with the Bus Riders Union in 1996 to remedy civil rights harms on bus riders by improving service. When the consent decree expired in 2006, the agency claimed it was leaving that era behind. However, FTA's review found Metro's compliance irregularities began with service cuts it initiated the year after the consent decree expired. LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, current chair of Metro's Board, has in the past been an advocate for the civil rights of transit riders but has yet to comment on this report.
The real question now is, will FTA insist that Metro's corrective action plan uphold the law? Metro should have to restore the nearly one million hours of bus service they cut to put a stop to the ongoing violations of riders' civil rights.