Audit faults MTA for lack of planning

U.S. says the transit agency failed to consider the effect of eliminating bus lines, adding services or changing fares. Review finds problems in communicating with those who don't speak English.

December 10, 2011|By Ari Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times
  • Bus passenger Ja Choi, 78, who came to Los Angeles from Korea in 2004, said the system is often frustrating and difficult to navigate.
Bus passenger Ja Choi, 78, who came to Los Angeles from Korea in 2004, said… (Michael Robinson Chavez,…)

Federal officials are preparing to chide Los Angeles County's transportation agency for not adequately considering how its actions affect passengers, according to a draft audit that has already prompted the agency to order more training for dozens of managers.

Officials said initial drafts of the audit show the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority failed to fully research the effect on riders and communities when eliminating bus lines, adding service or changing fares.

The officials did not provide a copy of the draft audit, which is expected to be released in its final version early next week.

The Federal Transit Administration — a major source of Metro's funding — also faults the agency for not posting civil rights guidelines and other notices throughout the system in enough languages, and for not instructing riders in how to file a complaint.

"They are basically process issues.… They are things that we are required to do in a certain fashion which we did not adequately do," Metro Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy said. "I'm absolutely committed to coming into compliance. We are going to comply with the rules, no question about that," he said.

One of the nation's largest transit operators, Metro has made strides in recent years in improving its communication with riders. It blogs transit news in English and Spanish and provides some language assistance to those who attend meetings of its governing board. Metro also distributes brochures in seven languages and advertises in non-English newspapers.

But the audit portrays an agency still striving to serve the region's diverse and geographically dispersed ridership and to adequately research the effect of its actions on neighborhoods and passengers.

Leahy said one example auditors raised was that when the agency reduced the price of the system's day pass from $6 to $5, it failed to analyze whether even a reduction in fare could have unintended consequences.

On the forthcoming Expo Line, which was scheduled to be accompanied by a reduction in bus service, auditors similarly faulted the agency for not adequately studying the effect on riders.

"You put in a new rail line, if at the same time you're taking out some bus routes, people might have to walk further," said Daniel Levy, director of Metro's division of civil rights programs compliance.

In a quick about-face, Metro announced Thursday that it would be implementing a series of bus service changes associated with the Expo Line and suspended the changes Friday. Officials said they wanted to be sure they were in compliance with federal civil rights guidelines.

"The FTA says that when you're doing a capital project … you need to do an analysis to see if the new service would create a disparate impact," Levy said.

One criticism was that Metro does not do enough to accommodate non-English-speaking, monolingual passengers. Signs posted throughout the system are often in only one of a handful of languages and they don't tell riders how they might file a civil rights complaint against the agency.

Metro officials have already produced new signs in 11 languages and say they are going to conduct a one-year language analysis to see how they can improve assistance for riders who speak little or no English.

Ja Choi, a 78-year-old bus passenger who came to Los Angeles from Korea in 2004, said the system is often frustrating and difficult to navigate.

Choi, speaking through a translator, said she recently received a letter from Metro offering coupons under its Rider Relief Transportation Program, but the information was in English and she couldn't understand most of the materials.

Levy said one idea is to eventually have graphics and other services that allow riders to access information in a variety of languages.

"To communicate with our multilingual community is extremely important. That should be common sense," said Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, a Metro board member. "I think that overall this is going to be a good thing for the city," he said.

Leahy said he welcomed the review, adding that he met with the federal administrator several times since the audit began last summer. He said he ordered managers and supervisors to go through another round of civil rights training on his own accord and that Metro is making sure they have gone beyond normal compliance.

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