Metro Rapid buses arrive at a bus stop at Wilshire Boulevard and Western… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
A federal agency has ordered Los Angeles County transportation officials to review whether cutting hundreds of thousands of hours in bus service over the last few years was unjust to riders.
The demand came in a scathing letter Monday from Federal Transit Administration chief Peter Rogoff that discusses "disturbing findings" of a civil rights investigation into policies and practices at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Those include Metro's failure to conduct the proper analyses when implementing service changes over the last several years. In the letter, Rogoff chides Metro officials, saying they "should be well familiar with the requirements" because of many years of litigation and a previous consent decree over civil rights issues.
"These findings now require me to formally find [Metro] not compliant with FTA [civil rights] requirements," Rogoff wrote.
Saying that federal funding could be in jeopardy, administration officials want Metro to review transit service changes made in December 2009, June 2010, December 2010 and June 2011 — when more than 650,000 hours in bus services were cut — and determine if they had unjust impacts on riders.
The administrator instructed officials to restore or restructure services if "disparate impacts" are found.
Despite the tough tone of the letter, organizers with the Bus Riders Union were disappointed by Rogoff's decision and said Metro has violated the law and should be held accountable.
"We're very concerned about the civil rights implications of this," spokesman Sunyoung Yang said. "For us, this ruling signals the FTA is abdicating its responsibility to enforce civil rights."
"What the FTA has pretty much asked MTA to do is redo the analysis. But what should have happened ... was to find MTA in violation of actual Title VI law," Yang said. "MTA showed in their own analysis they knew these cuts would be" discriminatory.
The group has planned a protest Tuesday outside Metro headquarters, where Yang said it would call on President Obama to intervene and overturn Rogoff's decision.
Dan Levy, director of Metro's division of civil rights programs compliance, said there were no new findings in Monday's letter and that the agency would comply with the review order.
Federal officials in December faulted Metro for not adequately considering how its actions affected passengers and said they failed to fully research the effect on riders and communities when eliminating bus lines, adding service or changing fares.
They also faulted Metro for not posting civil rights guidelines and other notices throughout the system in enough languages.
Federal officials said Metro has already made progress on many of the problems outlined in last year's review.
Metro board member and county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called Monday's letter "embarrassing, to put it mildly."
"The MTA board had better take the contents of the letter seriously. And to trifle with civil rights issues, alleged civil rights violations, is to invite more than what we can contend with," Ridley-Thomas said.
"It seems like the board and staff just simply need to get [their] act together."