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Feds push MTC to check transit projects for civil rights compliance

By dcuff
Friday, August 27th, 2010 at 2:23 pm in Uncategorized.

The federal government is telling the Bay Area’s transportation commission to take a more active role in checking whether proposed public transit projects would have unfair impacts on minorities and low-income people. 

The federal pressure, some transit advocates say, could have long-term ramifications for proposed public transit projects because MTC acts as a conduit for federal transit funds in the Bay Area. 

In an August 12 letter, the Federal Transit Administration gave 30 days to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission — a Bay Area funding and planning agency — to provide documentation on how it checks to avoid discriminatory impacts in proposed public transit projects.

Read one account of the issues here.

Earlier this year, the federal agency denied BART $70 million in federal economic stimulus funds for a rail extension to the Oakland International Airport because BART failed to do an adequate study to determine whether the project would have discriminatory effects in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“FTA remains concerned that we found BART out of compliance with Title VI in 2009,” wrote Cheryl Hershey, director of the office of civil rights within the Federal Transit Administration. “This fact suggests to us that MTC has not adequately ensured BART’s Title VI compliance….and therefore, this raises the possibility that other subrecipients (transit operators) are out of compliance.”

MTC spokesman John Goodwin said his agency would not comment on the complicated legal dispute. The commission will provide the information the federal agency has requested, he said.

The federal agency’s letter was a response to a complaint filed against the Metropolitan Transportation Commission by Public Advocates on behalf of Urban Habitat and Genesis, two social justice groups.

“MTC’s systematic failure to make civil rights a priority in Bay Area transportation spending has now been unmasked,” said Richard Marcantonio, attorney for Public Advocates, a nonprofit group.

Public Advocates contends that MTC funding allocations have unfairly favored affluent white riders on BART at the expense of minority and poor people who rely on buses.

Marcantonio said he believes the letter could have a big impact in making MTC and public transit agencies pay more attention to civil rights in service changes or expansions.

Marcantonio noted that the federal agency wants MTC to spell out  what penalties it would impose against transit operators failing to comply with the federal Civil Rights Act.

(BART, meanwhile, has come up with a backup plan for funding the rail extension to the Oakland airport, and is moving toward letting a construction contract later this year. Project critics haven’t given up, though. They trying to rally support to block state and federal funding for the project).

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