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CIVIL RIGHTS GROUPS CALL ON PRESIDENT OBAMA TO INTERVENE ON CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS BY LA METRO
Sunyoung Yang, Bus Riders Union, 213/387.2800/213.618.2851 mobile
Guillermo Mayer, Public Advocates, 415.625.8456/510.928.1040 mobile
Los Angeles -Civil rights groups today joined LA transit riders in sharply denouncing the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) failure to find Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) in violation of federal civil rights laws, and failure to restore 1 million hours of previously cut service. Despite overwhelming evidence showing that the agency knowingly discriminated against bus riders of color when approving the elimination of nearly one million hours of bus service between 2007 and 2011, the FTA issued a ruling with stern words but no remedies. Transit riders urged President Obama to intervene, calling it a test of his administration's commitment to civil rights.
Who: LA bus riders, the Bus Riders Union and representatives of city-wide transit civil rights
What: Press conference on findings in federal civil rights review of LA Metro
Tuesday, April 24 @ 10AM outside of LA Metro Headquarters, 1 Gateway Plaza (Cesar Chavez & Vignes), Los Angeles
In response to a civil rights investigation by FTA of LA Metro, the nation's second largest transit agency acknowledged that its own studies showed that successive rounds of bus service cuts disproportionately harmed Black, Latino, and Asian Pacific Islander riders. Yet the cuts were instituted anyway. For 500,000 low-income minority bus riders, the MTA's discriminatory cuts took place at a time the agency boasted of a 52 percent increase in additional revenue from Measure R.
But in an about-face that shocked the civil rights community, FTA dismissed this evidence of discrimination. FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff acknowledged that he had the power to order LA Metro to restore and/or restructure service to remedy its Title VI violations. However, he did not exercise his authority to do so; instead, he simply ordered the agency to re-do the studies. Meanwhile, Metro staff stated just last week that "it is anticipated that the [new] analysis will not find any disparate impacts."
"FTA is ignoring the smoking gun uncovered by its own civil rights team," said Sunyoung Yang, lead organizer at the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union, a grassroots civil rights membership organization of LA's transit riders that has battled LA Metro for years. "Rather than hold Metro responsible, Administrator Rogoff is allowing the agency to paper over its civil rights abuses through more studies to make its civil rights violations disappear through administrative sleight of hand. Since Rogoff and FTA have abdicated their responsibility to enforce Title VI, we're calling on President Obama to bring real civil rights to LA bus riders and order the restoration of lost transit service."
"This is a critical test case that will signal whether the Obama Administration has the political will to enforce Title VI," said Guillermo Mayer, senior staff attorney at Public Advocates, a San Francisco-based civil rights law firm. "First, in an ideologically-driven 5 to 4 decision in 2001, the Supreme Court barred individuals and groups like Bus Riders Union and Public Advocates from bringing disparate impact cases in court, so now federal agencies are our last recourse to fight these harms. We call on President Obama to overturn the FTA decision to prevent a huge set-back for civil rights."
LA Metro's history of civil rights abuses has been well-documented. In a landmark lawsuit filed in 1994, the Bus Riders Union sued Metro for racial discrimination, resulting in 10 years of court oversight and close to $3 billion in improvements to the bus system. FTA's investigation showed that Metro officials returned to their previous practices almost immediately after the court supervision expired. Given that history, bus riders and their allies were appalled that FTA would not use its enforcement powers to pressure Metro to remedy the harms its policies inflicted on 500,000 mostly Black and Latino bus riders.
"Since LA Metro has consistently shown disdain for both the letter and spirit of civil rights protections, bus riders in Los Angeles and the social movement we've built expect and deserve to have our rights enforced by the federal government," said Barbara Lott-Holland, a 35-year bus rider and co-chair of the Bus Riders Union. "We're at a historic cross-road in our nation's commitment to civil rights, and President Obama has the chance to send a clear message that he will not allow the death of Title VI on his watch."
FTA's civil rights investigation was triggered by a 2010 complaint filed by the Bus Riders Union and Public Advocates. The complaint asserted that LA Metro had discriminated in focusing transit service cuts solely on bus routes on which riders of color most depended, while service on rail routes increased. In particular, the complaint noted that Metro Bus riders are less than half as likely as Metro Rail riders to be White, and Metro Rail riders are 30 percent less likely to be Latino than Metro Bus riders.
FTA Letter to LA Metro on civil rights review, 4.23.2012 http://bit.ly/IOaEj3
Bus Riders Union letter to FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff re backtracking on civil rights findings, 4.16.2012 http://bit.ly/JCV7ok
For more information, seehttp://www.thestrategycenter.org/node/5673