FTA: Metro Deficient in Five of 12 Civil Rights Categories

Photo:##http://www.flickr.com/photos/tejana/47355317/##Tejana/Flickr##

Yesterday, the Federal Transit Administration publicly released its Title VI Civil Rights Review of Metro that was completed earlier this year.  The FTA outlines a series of deficiencies in almost half of its twelve civil rights categories.  Metro insists these are minor issues that can be easily fixed while critics of the agency call the report “a crushing indictment of the MTA.”  The document is available as a word document off the FTA’s website and a pdf off Streetsblog’s Sribd Page.

The FTA identified deficiencies in five of the 12 requirements of the Title VI Circular applicable to urban transit agencies that receive federal funds.  The five deficient areas are:

  • Notice to the Public of Rights
  • Language Access to LEP Persons
  • System-wide Service Standards and Policies
  • Evaluations of  Service and Fare Changes
  • Monitoring Transit Service

Despite the strong critique of Metro policies, the FTA report stops short of requiring that Metro roll back any of its recent fare increases or service cuts that led to the Bus Riders Union to call for a Civil Rights Review in the first place.  BRU spokespeople noted that the report doesn’t rule out making such a determination in the future, but for now the agency has time to answer the FTA’s complaints, create and implement a Civil Rights Corrective Action Plan, and fill in some gaps in its reporting.

For example, when a Metro policy is shown, by its own analysis, to have a “disparate impact” on a minority or disadvantaged community  Metro is required to prove that the policy is absolutely necessary and there is no other less discriminatory alternative available.  In the case of its 2009 and 2011 service cuts, the agency did show a “disparate impact” in over three fifths of its service changes, but didn’t show that cuts were a “business necessity” in its own documents explaining the cuts and there were no other “less discriminatory alternatives.”

In plain English, Metro didn’t sufficiently prove that its service changes, cuts and improvements, were a business necessity after determining that they had a systematic negative impact on minority and disadvantaged communities.

In addition to studying the impact of its fare policies, including the reduction in cost for the Metro Day Pass that went on the books this summer, Metro is required to do a study of the cumulative impact of the changes to bus service that have occurred since 2009.  But it’s not like Metro is just ticking off a series of studies that it has to do, pending the findings of these studies, the FTA could require changes, including a requirement to roll back past policies, service changes and fare changes once Metro concludes its reporting.

Some of the other findings in the report were just strange.  For example, by its own standard, Metro has to examine why there is a significant difference, 3% or more, in survey answers from different demographics when completing its bi-annual survey of riders.  However, when their rider surveys showed that difference, there was never any examination of why, just a blanket statement that:

Since this was an opinion survey, not an observational one, perceived differences may not be real. Those who are more frequent and/or dependent users of the system are likely to be more critical than occasional riders. Differing perceptions may be a reflection of the extent to which users care about the system and its quality.”

Other “highlights” from the FTA report include:

  • The FTA is going to want more information than that.  Other highlights from the report include: requirements that important Metro documents and announcements be translated into more languages than just English and Spanish since nearly 1 in 12 Metro riders doesn’t speak either of these languages,
  • The FTA requires consistent standards for bus and rail programs for evaluation.  Metro is seeking to address this issues at this week’s Board Meeting
  • Metro has not completed consistent and increased analysis of environmental justice issues in environmental documents for rail expansion projects.

Metro has officially responded to the document with statements on The Source, a Civil Rights Corrective Plan, and a report to its Board of Directors that cast the FTA report as a minor hiccup and not a major indictment of the agency. Metro argues that many of the issues identified are just minor communication errors and the rest will be addressed by improved policies by March of next year.  Metro even blames the FTA for confusing policies that led Metro astray.

Meanwhile, the Bus Riders Union sees a lot of things in the report that sound familiar, because they have been saying them for years.  Federal officials noted that bus loads were higher and quality of service was lower in communities of lesser means, which is boilerplate for the BRU.  BRU has argued for years that Metro was not making a case that its service changes were “a business necessity,” an argument embraced by the FTA report.

“The real question now is whether FTA will insist on an honest and fair corrective action plan from Metro,” explains Sunyoung Yang of the Bus Riders Union looking ahead to future FTA action.  “We believe such a plan would have to restore the nearly one million hours of bus service that Metro cut the last four years, cuts that rolled back transit service that was originally added as part of BRU’s lawsuit against Metro.”

The most recent service changes were passed by the Metro Board by the slimmest 7-6 margin earlier this year, but at this point it is too soon to know if the FTA report will cause for Metro to voluntariy roll back some of its service cuts.  Staff for Metro Board Members apparently don’t have the same access to FTA reports that Ari Bloomekatz at the Los Angeles Times does.  While Bloomekatz was writing on the report last week, political staff members didn’t see the FTA report until shortly before it was available on The Source yesterday afternoon.

Further complicating matters, it was Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who has led the fight against most bus service cuts, but his office has yet to comment on the report while the Mayor is in Asia stumping for Los Angeles’ business community.

Streetsblog will continue to cover the FTA report and the created fallout.  As advocates and politicians have a chance to dig in to the report and Metro’s response, there will doubtless be more breaking news as the week, and month, continues.

  • Damien, I have to hold your feet to the fire a little bit here. Why the guard quotes around “disparate impact”? The concept of disparate impact is an important one, and one that’s frequently misunderstood on these boards. When you wrote that “in plain English… Metro’s service changes… had a negative impact on on minority and disadvantaged communities,” you incorrectly collapsed the concept of disparate impact. The problem is not that Metro’s service changes had a negative impact on the poor, but that they *systematically* had a more severe negative impact on the poor than they did on the rich. (Or sub poor for minority and rich for white). This is the case when operations budgets are moved to rail rather than bus.

    I often hear the objection “but rail helps the poor too!” This objection stems from a misunderstanding of the concept of disparate impact. Yes, there are poor people riding the rail lines. But – I’ll just quickly choose some representative numbers – if 90% of rail riders are poor, and 99% of bus riders are poor, and you move money from bus to rail as we in LA have done, your change has a disparate impact. Depending on the numbers, the poor, as a group, could experience a net loss in service while the rich experience a net gain. The rich on the buses lose, the rich on the rail win; the poor on the buses lose, the poor on the rail win; summing across all groups, since there are a greater percentage of poor people on the buses, the poor lose overall. Or – both groups could win, but the rich would experience a greater percentage of the overall benefit. Or – in the case of service cuts, both groups could lose, but the reduction in service experienced by the average poor person is much more than the reduction experienced by the average rich person). The devil is in the details when it comes to the numbers and the exact distribution of the costs and benefits, but the key point to understand is that there is a consistent difference in the demographics of bus riders and rail riders, and that difference stems from the fact that more people who have choices ride the rail. 

    The *distribution* of impact is the key concept here. When you collapse that, you oversimplify the whole debate.

  • Marco Anderson

    Great comment Herbie, Environmental Justice is such a difficult concept with which to grapple.  I think, like sustainability, people don’t realize that the planners and advocates who work on EJ have developed terms and methods for analyzing impacts that refer to specific things.  So when one says  a policy suffers from environmental injustice, it doesn’t mean one person is sitting in an office saying “Hey let’s make life hard for some poor people, and it will be even better if that person is a poor minority group member.”  Instead it means a number of individually rational decisions are ending up having disparate impacts.  Like CEQA, that shouldn’t mean that every impact shuts down a project, but instead it means an impact needs to be addressed and mitigated. 

    Environmental Justice analysis is entirely focused on making invisible trends visible so that they can be analyzed.  When you are talking about environmental justice you are talking about the best and worst that people do, intentionally and unintentionally.  So naturally the conversation itself brings out the best and worst that people have within.

  • Dan W.

    In other words, make everyone poorer so the poor don’t feel as discriminated against?

    No thanks. 

    We need better bus service, but not at the expense of our needed rail projects.

  • @e32200c2bb2b8beb42fe90c73eaf430c:disqus  – I’m sorry, I don’t understand what statement of mine you are paraphrasing here? @e32200c2bb2b8beb42fe90c73eaf430c:disqus I don’t think focusing our transit investments on the bus system is “making everyone poorer”; by definition, it’s investing, which creates benefit. The question is how to distribute investments and the benefits they create. There’s only a limited amount of money to spend, so this question is always relevant.
    Could I ask you to be more civil, and use a more respectful tone?

  • Dan W.

    My tone was not uncivil.  You just didn’t like what I said and that I flat out disagree with your ideological approach to transit planning..

    I just don’t agree with you that we should stop expanding Metrorail to focus on bus operations.  We need a larger pie for both.

  • Dan W.

    Oh, and do let us know when you tell the BRU and its misguided supporters to use a more “civil and respectful” tone with those who disagree with their ideology.

  • Mig

    Dan, your intial comment has nothing to do with the issue of the article or Herbie’s comment. Do let us know when you start to address the issues being discussed here.  <—- That's not uncivil, but the tone is sarcastic and dismissive – like yours. 

    "You just didn't like what I said and that I flat out disagree…"

    When some people don't like what others say they provide a response and address the issue… you should try it some time. 

    I don't read anywhere in Herbie's post that "we should stop expanding Metrorail to focus on bus operations."   

  • Dan W.

    Mig, You must have missed when Herbie stated, “This is the case when operations budgets are moved to rail rather than bus.”  The implication of that opinion is obvious.

    Herbie didn’t like that I disagreed with his ideology, nor do you apparently, so you attack my “tone” even though I didn’t call him any names or use any profanity.

    Yes, I am sarcastic and dismissive of the ideology of the BRU and their sympathizers.  I make no apologies for that.

  • What I perceived as disrespectful in your tone was your use of the words “No thanks,” and “Oh, do let us know.” I also perceive as disrespectful the way you characterized my argument as an argument that we should make everybody poorer. 

    I can’t make you do anything. I can only ask you to do things. Obviously, you don’t have to listen. I only ask because when I read comments with the tone and content above, I feel a bit angry and a bit hurt. I perceive that you have no interest in listening to what I’m saying, and that you want to write me off. Please respect my point of view. (Which, in this case, is just that the concept of disparate impact is an important one.)

  • Parlorpink

    One of the ironies here is that the report shows that in some ways Metro gives more consideration to bus passengers than rail passengers. For example, there are more detailed service standards for bus routes than for rail lines. So it’s easier to measure whether bus passengers are getting good service.

    There are lots of rail stations coming on line in Los Angeles County in the next few years, starting with the Expo Line next year. There’s been increasing concern around the country that transit-oriented development around rail stations isn’t always as inclusive of low income and non-White people as it should be. This is an issue where the Bus Riders Union–with its longstanding focus on equity–could play a real and constructive role. But it would have to, as Gertrude Stein said, “accept the universe” that rail transit will be a substantial and permanent part of Los Angeles transit.

  • Dan W.

    In all honesty, I think that it is a very thinned-skin response to what I said.

    And, I think I have a valid point about about whether you are as concerned about the “civil and respectful tone” of the BRU, even if you do not like how I made it. 

    Do you only seek that sort civil and respectful “tone” from one side?  At the next Metro meeting when the BRU is disrespectful and/or uncivil will you call them out on it or cheer them on?

    However, if I offended you, I apologize.

  • Dan W.

    And, for what it is worth, I do share your concern of the poor, and their transit mobility. 

    I also favor a big increase in money spent for bus operations and transit only lanes all over the county.

    I want to expand the pie for both bus and rail.

  • Dan W.

    “There’s been increasing concern around the country that transit-oriented
    development around rail stations isn’t always as inclusive of low
    income and non-White people as it should be.”

    ——————-

    Maybe that’s an issue on which we can rally around and agree.

  • Mig

    Dan – The statement that disparate impacts result from shifts of funds from bus to rail (which Herbie made) does not equate, in my opinion, with the statement that rail expansion should be halted to focus on the expansion of bus service (which you attribute to Herbie).  Ultimately, FTAs beef is not that disparate impacts occur, but how they are studied and what, if any, attempts are made to address them by pursuing alternative actions that achieve similar intended outcomes while having a lesser impact on the poor/minorities. 

    I certainly did not want to level a personal attack, but your initial response does not address, in my opinion, a single thing Herbie said.  All there was to comment on was your tone as there is no counter to comments you admit are sarcastic and dismissive,  regardless of whether or not these tactics are used by the BRU. 

    It appears there’s much more common ground among these posts than could initially be inferred. 

  • You assholes spent more time talking about civility than the issue at hand. For Christ’s sake, raise fares, cut service in areas that don’t justify it and let the market decide the price for parking and driving. The general public would never go for it but that’s how you improve transit service. Right now it’s being treated like a welfare program and we’re getting welfare program results. 

    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2011/11/can-higher-fares-save-public-transit/602/

    Though it would be interesting to see how the BRU could run transit for a year. I wonder what that would be like.

  • Dan W.

    Interesting article, Spokker.  It will never fly politically here, of course.

    And I for one have always appreciated your “tone”.  :)

  • Damien, I have to hold your feet to the fire a little bit here. Why the guard quotes around “disparate impact”? The concept of disparate impact is an important one, and one that’s frequently misunderstood on these boards. When you wrote that “in plain English… Metro’s service changes… had a negative impact on on minority and disadvantaged communities,” you incorrectly collapsed the concept of disparate impact. The problem is not that Metro’s service changes had a negative impact on the poor, but that they *systematically* had a more severe negative impact on the poor than they did on the rich. (Or sub poor for minority and rich for white). This is the case when operations budgets are moved to rail rather than bus.—————-
    I’m pulling this out so I can respond directly to the critique of the story.

    I put the quotes around disparate impacts because it’s a technical term that I’m not sure many people are familiar with and wanted to make it clear to people that this was their term, not my term.  Honestly, that was a mistake in writing.  I should have linked directly to a definition instead of putting the quotes around it.  In this case, it wasn’t a guard quote but actual quotation marks.  But still, I actually made things less clear than more.  When I’m done typing this comment, I’ll go fix it.

    I guess I should have looked up that definition for myself too…

  • I am tied up by personal stuff and won’t have a chance to dig into the FTA report for a few days.

    Interestingly I am hearing folks in the industry see this as evidence of a trend of FTA beefing up enforcement. This happened with complimentary transit (like Access Services) a few years ago but push back caused the regulators eventually to retreat. I’m curious to see what happens this time…

  • In service changes, saying that people have alternate service is not going to cut it any more. There needs to be an analysis of the actual alternate service, the number of people affected, and the added time it will take for them to make their trip. Sometimes additional transfers can shorten average trip time, when waiting time is considered, but MTA never made that point. Also, the gradual trip thinning that has never gone to a public hearing also is an issue, as is the decrease in service caused by putting articulated buses on the street.