The civil rights violations committed by BART in its controversial Oakland airport connector project has prompted a new federal probe into the state agency that oversees BART — the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. In an August 12 letter to MTC, the Federal Transit Administration expressed concerns that MTC has failed to adequately monitor other Bay Area transit agencies, which might have committed civil rights violations, too.
The federal probe could ultimately force MTC to fully investigate all other Bay Area transit agencies to determine whether their practices also violate federal civil rights. Advocates for low-income commuters have long argued that Bay Area transit officials, including those at MTC, routinely favor white suburban transit commuters over minority inner-city bus riders who have endured numerous cutbacks in service in recent years. “We think this could be an opening for greater accountability,” said Richard Marcantonio, a lawyer for the civil rights law firm Public Advocates.
The August 12 letter from Cheryl Hershey, the director of the Federal Transit Administration’s Office of Civil Rights, noted that MTC is required by its own agreements with the Bay Area transit agencies to ensure that they abide by federal civil rights laws. But Hershey noted that the federal BART probe found that BART had violated the civil rights of minority bus riders in the East Bay when it decided to replace a $3 shuttle to Oakland airport with an elevated guideway that will cost commuters at least $6 each way — and didn’t conduct a study of the impact on minority riders. As a result, MTC appears to have failed to ensure that BART was in compliance with federal civil rights laws. “The FTA is saying that it’s MTC’s role to be a watchdog for civil rights in the region,” Marcantonio said.
In a March letter to the Federal Transit Administration, MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger contended that it wasn’t MTC’s responsibility to monitor the transit agencies it oversees for civil rights compliance. But Hershey corrected Heminger and strongly implied in her letter that if MTC can’t prove that it has adequately monitored other Bay Area transit agencies, then it too has violated federal civil rights laws.
Earlier this year, the Federal Transit Administration revoked $70 million in stimulus funding from BART after it found that the agency committed civil rights violations in its airport connector project. BART has since sought to find other funds to keep the project alive.