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Metro board members lecture agency over civil rights violations

Elected officials chastised Los Angeles County’s transportation agency on Thursday for civil rights violations cited by a recent federal audit.

The review, released by the Federal Transit Administration this week, found that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority does an inadequate job of researching the impact on passengers when changing fares or eliminating bus lines.

Federal officials found deficiencies in five of a dozen areas, including service monitoring and service and fare equity.

“I find it, frankly, rather embarrassing that the FTA has to reach in … and say ‘get your house in order,’” Mark Ridley-Thomas, a county supervisor and Metro board member, said during a board meeting.

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“Civil rights violations ought not to be seen as business as usual,” he said.

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, also a board member, said he was upset about the findings.

The audit — which notes that a language other than English is spoken in 54% of homes in the county — also faulted Metro for failing to fully accommodate riders who speak little or no English.

“Given the vast diversity of language and culture that the L.A. County region encompasses, we should be the standard bearers for federal civil rights compliance, not lagging behind in any way shape or form,” Huizar said.

The issue came into relief at the end of Thursday’s meeting when a Spanish speaker wanted to address the board about a different item but no translator was present.

Quickly improvising, Metro Administrative Director Patricia Soto got up to help.

“We just all got up and said we’re concerned about the civil rights implications” of the report, said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the chairman of Metro’s board. “We should have a Spanish language translator here,” he said.

Villaraigosa said he spoke with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff about the audit to make sure they knew that correcting the problems would be a top priority. The federal government is one of Metro’s primary sources of funding.

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Metro officials released a 47-page corrective action plan the same day the audit became public and presented a summary to the board.

The plan includes improved planning and review of projects; increased language assistance for passengers; and a monitoring program to ensure equal service is given to all riders.

Metro officials said they have already produced new signs in eleven languages alerting riders to their civil rights. The board also adopted an updated version of service standards and policies, another deficiency auditors had identified.

Metro Chief Executive Art Leahy said he embraced the audit and has already ordered dozens of managers to undergo civil rights training.

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Leahy said most of the corrective changes would be complete by June, but studying language use would take more time.

Transit activists and other groups said Metro needs public oversight of the corrective action plan and said the audit shows fundamental problems at the agency.

“Most disturbing is that the FTA found that Metro approved service cuts and raised fares without looking closely at how county residents would be affected and doing everything it could to avoid it,” Hernan Vera, president and chief executive of Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm, said in a statement.

“We call upon the board to ensure a rigorous analysis in addressing and correcting these deficiencies and to make certain that the process going forward is accountable and transparent,” he said.

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ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com


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