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Of bias and buses

Editorial

It's disconcerting to see the MTA being scolded by the Federal Transit Administration for once again courting a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Critics also say that Metro has prioritized rail service over bus service.

May 02, 2012
  • Passengers ride the MTA's Blue Line. Critics say that Metro has, in particular, prioritized rail service over bus service, which in turn adversely affects low-income and minority communities that rely heavily on buses. But both Metro and federal officials say that minority populations make up the majority of bus riders and rail passengers.
Passengers ride the MTA's Blue Line. Critics say that Metro has, in… (Los Angeles Times )

Wouldn't it be great if we could move public transportation across the city of Los Angeles as easily as the avenging thieves of the film "The Italian Job" moved their fleet of get-away Mini Coopers by hacking into the transit authority's computers and making all the lights turn green at the right moment? Unfortunately, there is no magical solution to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's need to cut costs without raising fares and still get bus and train passengers everywhere on time as often as possible.

For years, the MTA has crunched the numbers of miles and buses and passenger boardings and load capacity to figure out where to cut back or increase service. Along the way, it has occasionally stumbled. It ran afoul of civil rights laws and agreed to abide by a federal consent decree that was in effect for 10 years, until 2006. So it's disconcerting to see the agency being scolded by the Federal Transit Administration for once again courting a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act — this time by not completely analyzing whether cutbacks on dozens of bus service routes since December 2009 would unfairly affect minority passengers.

MTA officials say they have already done some of the required analyses. They also say that while service cuts may deprive some riders of the convenience of a one-seat ride all the way to their destination, they don't strand riders — there are always alternative buses and trains.

Critics say that Metro has, in particular, prioritized rail service over bus service, which in turn adversely affects low-income and minority communities that rely heavily on buses, often for long commutes from home to work or school and back. But both Metro and federal officials say that minority populations make up the majority of bus riders (90%) and rail passengers (83%).

Because it receives federal funds, the local transportation agency is obligated to make sure its polices are not discriminatory. It is now in the process of conducting analyses of the equity of the various cuts in service, officials say.

When they meet with federal transit officials May 7, Metro officials will review the methodology that the federal government expects them to use in the various analyses. They should be ready to examine thoroughly the affect of the cuts on area communities and to make any changes necessary to be in compliance with civil rights laws. The city's new rail lines — including the just-opened Expo line, which promises to get as far as Santa Monica — are welcome and even exciting, stoking enthusiasm among riders and taxpayers. But for many people in Los Angeles, buses are lifelines, and trains, with their limited routes, won't change that.

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