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MTA, Asians Working to Improve Relations


The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a dismal record of reaching out to the Asian American community and needs to hire more Asian Americans, provide multilingual transit information and make the public transit system more user-friendly, community leaders say.

Since October, members of the Asian Pacific Planning Council, a coalition of Asian American community groups, have been meeting with transit officials to express concerns that the agency is ignoring the needs of Asians, a group that accounts for 11% of the county population, said council member James Dichirico, coordinator of the Asian Pacific Community Fund.

Transit officials said that in response to the meetings and similar concerns expressed by U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena, the agency plans to use a federal grant to study "language barrier problems" and how to alleviate them.

The transit agency's lack of multilingual materials and customer service personnel who speak Asian languages has intimidated Asian riders and left them confused, Dichirico said. Asian bus riders also have complained to Asian American community groups of being treated rudely by drivers and customer service representatives because they cannot speak English, Dichirico said.

Community leaders are lobbying for employee sensitivity training as well as hiring more Asian Americans. Construction of the Alameda Transportation Corridor, light-rail and subway lines, and other projects--all of which are expected to create about 66,000 jobs--provide a prime opportunity for the transit agency to increase its minority hiring, Dichirico said.

The agency "is going to be hiring police officers, customer relations people. . . . They've got to be sensitive to the multiculturalism of Los Angeles," Dichirico said.

Another important step is to appoint more Asian Americans to the agency's executive and senior management positions, and include Asian community representatives in the decision-making process, Dichirico said.

During their monthly meetings with chief executive officer Franklin White, planning council members have provided examples of other companies that have reached out to the Asian American community and pointed out the resources, such as translation services, that have been provided by local organizations.

"We're hoping they can see the opportunities in this . . . to improve their services," Dichirico said.

Transit agency spokesman Jim Smart said the meetings have been productive and that the agency expects to receive a $300,000 federal grant in the next few months to study issues related to language. The grant is the result of concerns also raised by Pena, Smart said.

The agency hopes to have its study completed by summer and will then address how to "improve our responsiveness," Smart said. "We're very optimistic and very enthused."

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