Strategy Center Files Civil Rights Complaint Against Metro Fare Enforcement

The Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook, looking southward along the Blue Line. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook, looking southward along the Blue Line. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

In November of 2016, the Labor/Community Strategy Center (LCSC) filed a civil rights complaint against Metro with the federal departments of Transportation and Justice. LCSC is the parent organization of the Bus Riders Union, and now the Fight for the Soul of the Cities (FFSC) campaign. The LCSC/FFSC complaint alleges that Metro has created a discriminatory system of policing that disproportionately impacts black transit riders, and that this system of criminalization of black riders constitutes a violation of civil rights. LCSC/FFSC is urging greater accountability from both Metro and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department (LASD), which policies Metro buses and trains.

The federal departments have acknowledged receipt of the LCSC/FFSC complaint and have requested that Metro respond to the allegations.

Among the discriminatory results that the LCSC/FFSC complaint cites are:

  • Blacks are 19 percent of rail riders but make up nearly 50 percent of Metro citations and nearly 60 percent of LASD arrests each year.
  • From 2012 and through May 2016, Metro and LASD combined have issued close to a half a million citations at 455,388. Of this total, black riders made up at least 48 percent of those cited.
  • From 2012 to 2015, black riders received over 50 percent of fare evasion citations while white riders received 9-10 percent of fare evasion citations. Black constitute 19 percent of rail ridership, while whites constitute 13 percent.

To remedy the alleged discriminatory practices, LCSC/FFSC are demanding significant changes to Metro and LASD practices including:

  • Free public transit
  • Ending ‘stop-and-frisk’ fare enforcement by withdrawing police from trains and buses
  • Reparations for past discrimination, including granting amnesty for outstanding Metro transit citations
  • Freezing all federal funds to Metro pending successful implementation of remedial actions

LCSC Director Eric Mann stressed the importance of building a civil rights movement to end numerous institutional practices that criminalize black people occupying public spaces. FFSC’s Community Rights Campaign successfully fought to reign in truancy criminalization practices employed by the L.A. Unified School District. Now FFSC is targeting similar practices at Metro.

Metro is currently in negotiations for a new policing contract. Though the agency may assign LASD transit policing duties to others, overall decriminalization (something some transit agencies are moving towards, especially in moving away from fare enforcement) has not been a significant part of the current discussions.

On the face of them, the citation figures are very damning. Public transit that should be welcoming to all is not welcoming to African Americans. The results of Metro’s policing system show that there is a need for significant reforms, and more measured consideration of how to balance monitoring the system with potential harms caused by that effort.

It is unclear how seriously federal agencies (about to undergo a change of presidential leadership) and Metro will take the LCSC/FFSC complaint. The LCSC/FFSC folks, though, based on their past, appear unlikely to back down from a just fight.

  • james456

    Seems like a bad system if you rely on law enforcement to make sure the fares are collected. Can’t we try turnstiles on all of the train entrances? Or is there a better idea?

  • The Labor/Community Strategy Center (Bus Riders Union) can’t even bother to use Metro’s correct legal name in a legal document. Uh-huh. Did Eric Mann write this in his BMW?

    And they want to have no fares on Metro. Okay.

    Anyone wanting more background on this organization, start here with Kymberly RIchards’ excellent work from back when:

  • LBC Dude

    Your first suggestion is make it free? Too many people in this one group are getting caught skipping the fair, better make it free and remove the cops?

    And this is why people don’t take this shit seriously anymore

  • The turnstiles cost Metro over $400K a month to rent and have a Senior/Disabled/Medicare loophole created by State of California law. And only Metro has turnstiles on a Light Rail system. Many of the stations cannot and will never be able to have turnstiles without major reconstruction and/or lane closures on adjacent roads/streets. And as this video shows, the ADA faregates (also required by law) are pretty much useless:

  • calwatch

    On the other hand, the last Title VI civil rights complaint filed in 2011 by LCSC just served to delay the service changes six months and give Metro staff members something to do, while pissing off drivers who were expecting to switch assignments.

    Anyone can analyze the data yourself as Metro now routinely publishes public records requests – The fact is that, per the monthly crime reports, the Blue Line has substantially greater criminal activity, per thousand riders, than the Red or Gold Lines. Part of policing is to flood the zone to prevent criminal behavior, as measured by reports of misdemeanors or felonies.

    Ultimately – societywide – there is a fundamental tension between people complaining about mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline, and others who want greater enforcement of regulations against sexual harassment, soliciting/vending on the train, and fare enforcement. Metro has made fare evasion equivalent to a parking ticket for adults and is seeking state legislation to do so for children, and I agree taking students away from school and putting them in court is not an ideal solution. On the other hand, maybe the parents need additional training or access programs to help subsidize fares if this happens frequently.

    Making fares free will only exacerbate the rolling homeless shelter phenomenon currently seen on Metro Rail, especially the subway, in late evening hours. This is that whole “2,000 more buses, 2,000 less police” argument, when in fact many African Americans and Hispanics want more policing in their neighborhoods, not less. I see that happening all the time in my local Nextdoor in Pomona, not a white or upper class community by any means.

  • godblessusa

    Don’t the sheriffs check EVERYONE’S Tap card? Each time I’ve been checked – I’m white – they were checking everyone. And I’ve been checked a lot!

    We need more law enforcement on Metro, not less, particularly at night. Ask any woman who has ever ridden alone.

  • Alex Brideau III

    In addition to the porous ADA faregates (which can be made more difficult to force open; see other cities’ ADA gates), Metro also has effectively begun to encourage riders to use the emergency exits by disabling all the alarms … systemwide, from what I’ve observed. Heck, you can see this in the video.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Those stats do seem very lopsided. But there’s really no way to know for sure how reliable the stats are unless security camera feeds from the various gates are reviewed to determine the racial breakdown of fare dodgers.

  • Just reassign some transit police from Watts to South Pasadena. Should clear that disparity right up.

  • “Repeal Measure R, Stop Measure M
    Stop all rail projects”
    But put the Crenshaw Line in a tunnel?

  • Justin Runia

    Good to know, I always wondered about this.

  • Daniel

    “Puny Beverly Hills-funded pseudo-Leninist cult desperately grasps for relevance eleven years after its consent degree expired and two months after it was shot down 70-30 on Measure M”

  • Sorry for the upside down photo. Disqus is mis-behaving.

  • Darren

    A critical chunk of missing data are race stats on who LASD *checks* for payment in the first place. Specifically, is LASD disproportionately citing African Americans because its deputies are singling out African Americans while being more lax about checking persons of other ethnicities? Anecdotally I (a white guy) have been checked fairly regularly while riding Metro rail, but it would be interesting to see the data behind this, if it exists. Maybe you’re right about using security cam footage and tallying it up.

  • DayleDiamond

    They put such little thought into editing their demands. 1.They want to end all fares , and 2. they want to end fare enforcement? You would think #2 would be redundant. I mean, seriously, how would a $0 fare be enforced? Would I have to prove I never gave money to Metro?

  • Marc

    Personally, as a white person on the blue line, I have experienced the exact opposite. The officer asked the people in the seat in front of me for their passes; made eye contact and nodded at me; and asked the person behind me for their pass.

    I have also simply walked by the officers checking and they don’t stop me most of the time. If I didn’t look like a white young professional with white headphones hanging off my ears and looking at my phone, I doubt they would let that slide…

  • Follow up:

    “On October 23, 2017 Metro was informed that USDOT will administratively close the complaint without any findings and enter into a one year agreement to provide technical assistance with regard to fare collection and fare compliance and related public outreach.”

  • jennix

    Depending on how i’m dressed and what i’m doing, i can experience either of these. I look basically white, but have ethnic features.

    When i’m sweaty and scrappin’ around on my whip, i get real interest from those guys checking TAP cards.

    When i’m dressed up nice, i’ve actually had at least two fare enforcement officers tell me “You forgot to tap when you got on, make sure you read the toll screen next time,” which seems appropriate (it’s only $1.75, you can’t get a good cuppa coffee for that anymore), but i bet that’s not what they say to everybody.


The Rosa Parks Station in Watts, looking toward Long Beach. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

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