Advocates Respond: What to Make of the FTA’s Civil Rights Report on Metro

fta civil rights compliance review for L.A Metro

Over the past week, Streetsblog published four stories on the Federal Transit Administration’s report on Title VI Civil Rights violations at Metro.  Most of our reporting focused on the conflict between the Bus Riders Union and Metro staff on what the report means.  However, advocates around the city have pored over the report and have opinions of their own of what it means and what Metro should do to respond.

As is often the case when seeking the opinions of a range of advocates, there was some disagreement.  One thing everyone agreed on is that Metro has to do better.

Going easiest on Metro was Jerard Wright, Sierra Club Angeles Chapter, Transportation Committee Co-Chair.  Wright argues that the report is a positive document for Metro as it shows how the agency can improve to better improve outreach for all users.  Wright writes, “I see the FTA report as nothing more than a punchlist of items that Metro needs to complete on top of what is already being done when decisions are being made on service, fares and the overall operations of the LA County Transportation system.

It clearly didn’t find fault with the agnecy as the directives reported were communication measures that will aid both Metro and FTA in the long run. The claims that this is a damning report is further from the truth as those claims are nothing more than a smokescreen to create a political whirlpool of drama.”

Southern California Transit Advocate Board Member, and Streetsblog contributor, Dana Gabbard took issue with both Metro’s outreach process and the idea that this report should be seen as an indictment of the agency as a whole.

“As somebody who has in the past severely criticized Metro for the poor handling of outreach for service change hearings (including in a series of commentaries that appeared on this blog earlier this year) I hope this report results in a more open and fair process,” Gabbard writes.  “That said the notion promoted in certain quarters that this audit will result in federal intervention and or mandates regarding fares and levels of service seems fanciful and frankly disingenuous demagoguery that obscures needlessly.”

As with Wright and Gabbard, Bart Reed has been a long time critic of the Bus Riders Union, however in this case Reed’s criticisms sound similar to the BRU’s, although Reed’s style is signifigantly more measured than the Union’s.

“Metro should now shift from making service decisions based primarily on triaging cuts when revenues were falling to having a system that has both higher frequencies and better coordination of connections that attracts more riders and serves the transit-dependent better. This means revising how the load factor is used when establishing service levels,” writes Reed.

“For example, lines serving Koreatown may experience peak load when reaching the heart of Koreatown, but lines in South Central LA or the valleys may be close to peak load over a much longer portion of the route. Thus, holding all lines to the same load factor might result in disproportionate cuts to service in the areas with a more even ridership distribution.”

Reed goes on to argue that changing headways along commercial corridors is one way that Metro policies are hurting the transit dependent.

“One of the results of service cuts is low-income workers who previously took buses with 10-15 minute headways on a major commercial corridor like Ventura Boulevard are now faced with up to 40 minute headways. Therefore, if one bus is late, the tardy worker is in danger of losing the job.  This creates a powerful incentive to switch to driving.”

Also weighing in is Public Counsel, a legal non-profit that defends the rights of the less-advantaged.  The group’s president is one of the few people I’ve met who both have a law degree and have read the FTA report.

“Government must protect its citizens from discrimination on account of race and ethnicity. Yet by failing to properly analyze how its policies, including service cuts, disproportionately affect minorities, Metro has failed  in this core obligation.  This failure has resulted in major barriers to economic survival for Metro’s core riders — including access to jobs, education, and health care,” writes Public Counsel President and CEO Hernán Vera.

“We urge the Metro board to take seriously the FTA Compliance Review which found Metro to be deficient in 5 of the 12 Title VI requirements: Notice to the Public of Title VI Rights, language access, adoption of system-wide service standards and policies, evaluation of service and fare changes, and monitoring transit service.”

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