Jasmine Wade, right, plays a drum as hundreds of members of the Bus Riders… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)
Saying that both federal and local officials have mostly ignored their calls for transportation reform in Los Angeles, the Bus Riders Union on Wednesday called on President Obama to help restore about 1 million hours in bus service cuts made over the last several years.
Hundreds of people led by the group rallied outside City Hall and loudly chanted: "President Obama, enforce, restore, expand our civil rights."
They danced and played drums, urged Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to take up their cause, and derided the Federal Transit Administration for not recognizing what they say are clear civil rights violations by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority caused by the service cuts.
"In Los Angeles, in particular, the violations around buses and civil rights has actually been carried out by a majority Democrat [Metro] board," said Sunyoung Yang of the bus riders group. The question, she said, is "can [Obama] challenge his own party?"
Last year, the Federal Transit Administration found that Metro had not conducted a full analysis of its major service changes dating back to 2009 and both agencies say they are now working together to develop an approach to do so. Metro officials said that about 860,000 hours of bus service have been cut since 2009.
"Without doing a Title VI analysis, it is impossible to know if there were changes that resulted in disparate impacts," said Dan Levy, director of Metro's division of civil rights programs compliance, referring to a study of whether the cuts in service were unjust to riders. He added that "a disparate impact is not a civil rights violation."
But activists said federal officials should have found Metro in violation of the law.
"Where the FTA failed to exercise its enforcement powers, the campaign will ask President Obama to find Metro guilty of violations and, as a remedy for the violations, order the agency to restore one million hours of service," according to a news release from the union.
The bus riders group, along with a host of other organizations, including the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, also called for lower transit fares and a moratorium on rail construction, saying local officials have prioritized those projects at the cost of bus riders.
Poet Mark-Anthony Johnson, a union member, was also on hand Wednesday and energized the crowd with lyrical rhymes.
"In the cramped spaces of bus transit," Johnson said, "swaying on the stage of our next plans, tuh return Title VI to our rightful hands."