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Feds say Metro cut service before properly studying rider impact

April 23, 2012 |  4:33 pm

Metro Rapid buses arrive at a bus stop at Wilshire and Western.  Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

As part of a continuing review, a federal agency Monday ordered Los Angeles County transportation officials to review their transit service cuts and changes dating back to 2009 to see if they were unfair to riders.

The demand came in a scathing letter from the Federal Transit Administration that discusses "disturbing findings" of a civil rights investigation into policies and practices at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The findings included Metro's failure to conduct proper analysis when implementing service changes and its failure to evaluate the effect of previous cuts.

The local agency "proceeded to implement multiple semiannual service changes, including reductions in service, despite the absence of the required Title VI analysis," the letter read.

As a result, the agency "cannot assure that its service changes were implemented in a nondiscriminatory manner," the letter reads. "These findings are particularly troubling since [Metro] should be well familiar with the requirements of DOT's Title VI regulations in the wake of its many years of litigation and the multi-year Consent Decree that it entered into with the [Bus Riders Union] and other plaintiffs."

Part of the federal agency's order, according to the letter, is that if Metro finds "unjustified disparate impacts, or justified disparate impacts that may be mitigated through an alternative with less of a disparate impact," they must restore or restructure those transit services.

Dan Levy, director of Metro's division of civil rights programs compliance, said that there were no new findings in Monday's letter and that the agency would comply with the order for a cumulative review.

Levy said that in a federal review last year, it was reported that Metro had found disparate effects in their analysis of service changes in 2010 and 2011, but that wasn't true. Those were "disproportionate" impacts, he said, also acknowledging that the method Metro used to conduct those reviews were flawed.

"What the letter does is it recognizes that error and says what we want you to do is go back to 2009 and this time, they say they want a cumulative analysis of all the service changes," Levy said.

Organizers with the Bus Riders Union say that such a cumulative review is a sham, and that the federal agency's determination that Metro did not violate civil rights law -– but rather federal process requirements -- is abhorrent. 

"We're very concerned about the civil rights implications of this," said Sunyoung Yang of the Bus Riders Union. "For us, this ruling signals the FTA is abdicating its responsibility to enforce civil rights."

Yang said the union would call on President Obama to look into the issue and overturn the FTA's decision.


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Photo: Metro Rapid buses arrive at a bus stop at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue.  Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times