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MTA Board Member Hears Latino Concerns


A Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member said the agency has focused attention on Echo Park bus lines and re-emphasized courtesy by bus drivers since a group of Latino riders accused the agency of racial discrimination.

At a Sept. 1 meeting with about a dozen Latino residents and local council members, MTA board member Antonio Villaraigosa outlined steps he said the agency has taken and vowed to continue working with residents to improve the local bus lines.

"I'm real sensitive to the concerns," said Villaraigosa, who spoke to the group in Spanish and brought several agency personnel with him to listen and answer questions.

Members of the newly formed Grupo Latino de Echo Park said that although they are pleased the agency is listening, they will not be satisfied until they see more action, such as the addition of sensitivity training and foreign language classes for drivers and the hiring of more bilingual drivers.

"Mr. Villaraigosa is giving us candy with those little steps," said Barbara Gonzalez, a founding member. "We need a lot more answers."

Grupo Latino members have complained to the MTA about drivers who allegedly made insulting comments about Latino passengers' English skills, engaged in loud and abusive arguments with passengers and failed to stop for Latinos. The group also contends the shabby condition of local buses proves the agency does not care about Latino neighborhoods.

Villaraigosa said specific incidents involving bus drivers are still being investigated.

Meanwhile, MTA officials have assigned a customer service representative to specifically handle calls from Echo Park, reminded bus drivers to treat all passengers courteously and encouraged drivers to study and use a Spanish phrase book, Villaraigosa said.

And the agency is creating a bilingual customer comment card that will be placed in Echo Park buses in a couple of weeks and all buses in coming months, Villaraigosa said. The agency also is trying, with limited funds, to bolster its graffiti cleanup and security efforts, he said.

But transit officials stopped short of agreeing to the group's demands for cultural sensitivity training and language training, saying they do not think they are necessary.

Grupo Latino members also questioned the slow pace of some of the investigations. Transit officials said they need more details to investigate certain reports, but members said they have provided plenty of information.

Frustrated by inaction, one 14-year-old has filed a lawsuit against the agency, saying a bus knocked him to the ground and did not stop to check for injuries.

Attorney Howard S. Levine filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Municipal Court for Arturo Orozco, who--according to the suit--suffered cuts, bruises, a sprained ankle and back injuries April 26 when the bus rounded a corner at Montana Street and Echo Park Avenue and struck his shopping cart. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Orozco, an El Sereno Junior High School student, and his family said an MTA police officer came to take a report but they never heard again from the agency. Levine criticized the transit police for failing to send a Spanish-speaking officer to Orozco's home, which he said would have facilitated communication for the family.

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