Unless you’ve been living under a rock since before Christmas, you know that Metro’s semi-annual service change program was abruptly suspended a mere two days before its scheduled December 18 implementation. In the days following that suspension, it was learned that the reason was the release of a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) audit of Metro’s Title VI review process.
What the review wasn’t was an investigation, as the Bus Riders Union (BRU) had claimed at every opportunity while it was in process. Metro was not singled out for the review, and the FTA found similar issues at the other agencies they reviewed. Nor were any of the findings called violations, as the BRU is now claiming; the FTA calls them “deficiencies” and no agency received any kind of fine or other punitive action.
And that leads to the question of how to deal with those who have Limited English Proficiency (LEP), as the FTA calls it. A four-factor analysis is being undertaken to identify which non-English languages require assistance in order to access Metro information and use the system; this will determine the number of LEP persons (or their percentage of the region’s population) likely to be encountered using public transit, the frequency of contact of those persons with Metro, the importance of public transit to those LEPs (how essential public transit is to those demographic groups), and what the cost will be to create the materials needed to address those groups’ needs. What is important to know is that the FTA doesn’t expect every single non-English speaking person to receive materials in his or her native language; given that resources are not unlimited, Metro will be allowed to make determinations of what the major non-English languages are and concentrate on creating materials for those. (The initial estimate is that somewhere between 12 and 20 languages will require translations, as it will only be considered a requirement if 5% of the region’s population speaks a particular language or more than 1000 of a given language’s speakers are users of Metro service.)
There are other areas to be addressed in the coming months, including the distribution of newer equipment in a way that prevents any area from having unreliable buses, security, and service monitoring (which will now rely less on passenger surveys and more on performance standards).
Undaunted, during public comment a BRU member revived the demand for the monthly pass to be returned to the $42 level it was at back in the days of the consent decree. That was followed by another clueless individual who thought Title VI should force LADOT to once again honor Metro’s passes. And John Walsh was chastised by Villaraigosa for continuing to call the agency racist.
And now, my take on the matter:
First, the FTA should have clarified their own regulations on Title VI long before now. I find it rather disingenuous that they found “deficiencies” in Metro’s policies and procedures that likely would not have existed if better documentation had come from Washington as to what was expected. After all, it’s not like these regulations suddenly appeared out of the blue; the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson was President (more than a half-dozen administrations ago).
Second, if the BRU had not been so strident during the consent decree by having an attitude that they were somehow in charge, they might have formed a working relationship with Metro that lasted beyond the ten years of the decree. Had such a relationship existed, it’s very likely that few (if any) of the deficiencies would have existed because there would have been ongoing work on these issues.
Third, the dependence on performance standards rather than passenger surveys and the like is likely to bring an end to the Board interceding to “save” low-performing bus service, because giving favored treatment will likely violate the process that will have to be established for Title VI compliance. (The Line 442 passengers better start preparing for the end.)
Fourth, there will need to be a dependence on the five local Service Councils to remove proposed service changes that may not be viable based on the new requirements, rather than the near-ubiquitous “proposal withdrawn by staff” that has been used more and more often in recent years to avoid these issues. The Councils and the Board will need to share responsibility for ensuring that service change programs are compliant, and neither will want to defer that responsibility to the planners.
Out of necessity, I’ve simplified the discussion of what has happened and what will need to happen down the road. For those who want to delve into the subject more deeply, I offer these links to PDF documents on Metro's website:
- Staff Report on FTA Civil Rights Compliance Audit (Attachment A) (Attachment B) (Power Point)
- Villaraigosa Motion (scroll to page 15)
- Power Point presentation to the five Service Councils
- Staff Report to January 19 Executive Management Committee