In Tight Times for Transit Budgets, FTA Warns Agencies Not to Discriminate

Local transit agencies that are planning service cuts and fare hikes as a result of budget constraints have been warned: cost-cutting measures shouldn’t unfairly affect people of color.

Peter Rogoff, head of the Federal Transit Administration, sent out a letter to local transit authorities last week reminding them of their duty to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits federally-funded programs and services from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin.”

Transit as a civil rights issue: Suburban bus riders would disproportionally benefit if MARTA brings back the Braves Shuttle after cutting routes that served city residents' daily needs. Photo: CBS Atlanta

The Transportation Equity Network notes that people of color are up to six times more likely to depend on public transportation than white Americans. “As a result,” said TEN’s Laura Barrett in a statement, “the epidemic of service cuts and fare hikes around the country are having a devastating impact on the ability of millions of Americans to access jobs, education, health care, and opportunity.”

TEN applauded Rogoff’s letter, stating that “a budget crisis is no excuse for violating civil rights.”

This issue has been raised recently with respect to the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. MARTA was forced to impose widespread cuts to bus service and raise monthly and weekly fares last fall. Laurel Paget-Seekins of the Atlanta Transit Riders’ Union said the pain was distributed more or less equally, but since then, there has been a call to reinstate the Braves Shuttle, which took mostly-suburban baseball fans from the train to the ballpark. Paget-Seekins said MARTA is being pressured by some business and political interests to bring back the service. Meanwhile, she says her bus route has been folded in with two other routes and is often overcrowded.

“That’s why people are upset about this idea of putting back the Braves shuttles,” she said. “Because those of us who ride every day are still kind of suffering from the cuts that happened last fall.”

MARTA riders are 78 percent black and 14 percent white, she said. In addition, more than 50 percent do not have access to a car and more than 60 percent make less than $30,000 annually.

The Atlanta Transit Riders’ Union watches MARTA and local and state government agencies closely for civil rights abuses. The union has filed a complaint against the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which runs a commuter bus service that doesn’t serve low-income communities, Paget-Seekins said. The FTA is now performing a compliance review in response.