With Full FTA Civil Rights Report Due This Week, Metro Plays Chess With Bus Service Changes

On Friday, Metro abruptly announced that it would be suspending changes and cuts to its bus service originally planned to go into effect yesterday until further notice.  The about-face on the most recent round of proposed cuts and other changes happened so quickly that just the day before Metro announced the changes via press release and it didn’t have time to forewarn members of its local Service Councils that approved the service tweaks of the change in plans.

The Bus Riders Union hasn't always given high marks to Metro. What marks with the FTA give?

Anyone wondering why the change of plans happened so suddenly had to wait only for a couple of hours.  Late Friday afternoon, The Source wrote that the Federal Transit Administration will announce this week that, “that Metro did not fully follow federal regulations and guidance when the agency made service and fare changes. The review dates back to 2009.”  The FTA has been reviewing Metro’s policies and decision making processes as the agency has scaled back its bus fleet in the past couple of years.

Not surprisingly, the Bus Riders Union was thrilled with the dual announcements.

“Metro’s decision to suspend another round of service cuts is clearly an indication this agency is treading carefully and is feeling the heat of the FTA civil rights review, which has been in progress since the summer,” writes Sunyoung Yang of the Bus Riders Union in a press statement.  “We hope that it’s the start of a new direction for this agency, with a renewed commitment to civil rights and first class service for its low income majority Black, Latino, and Asian riders. We eagerly await the findings of the FTA report and a robust plan on how Metro will clean up its civil rights act.”

But it appears that the BRU’s hopes for major policy changes at Metro will be dashed.  The Source article calmly states, “It is important to note that the compliance review does not call for any service changes or fare changes to be rescinded,” and a statement from Metro spokesman Marc Littman ends with a promise that the proposed changes will occur soon.

“The bus service changes suspended for Sunday were mostly minor but there were some significant improvements planned that the community sought.  Consider Line 30,” writes Littman.  “The suspended service changes should go into effect within a few weeks once we do analysis on a couple of lines.”  Part of the service changes included a large expansion of service on bus line 30 serving West Hollywood and the Pico/Rimpau area along San Vicente Boulevard.

What has changed at Metro as a direct result of the review is that the agency hired a full-time Civil Rights Compliance Officer earlier this fall to review Metro policies and work closely with the FTA to make certain that Metro and the FTA are in harmony on any future fare or service changes.

Metro also shrugs off criticism that recent fare hikes and service cuts were in major violation of federal law.  Littman writes, “The federal Civil Rights guidelines require equity analysis to determine if there are impacts on low income people and minorities for service improvements and fare reductions like the recent dollar drop in the day pass cost as well as cuts in service or fare hikes. The regulations have been recently clarified by FTA for the transit industry.”

Attempts to control the message on the FTA’s findings have already begun in earnest.  On one hand, you have Metro suspending service changes, hiring Civil Rights Compliance Officers and claiming past violations are “minor.”  One transit advocate, speaking on background, scoffs at the notion that Metro isn’t worried about the FTA’s report noting that, “MTA wouldn’t just hire a full time Civil Rights Compliance director just in good faith ‘to be in compliance’ out of the blue—why now versus in 2006, or 2007, 2008 or any other time?”

When the FTA releases its Final Report, Streetsblog will post it as soon as we can.  A complete story might have to wait until the following day so that we have time to really sink our teeth in before we post some detailed analysis.

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