Legislation That Affects the Transit Industry: Title VI
In addition to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) , Title VI regulations are the laws that affect public transit agencies the most.
Overview of Title VI
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance. Specifically, Title VI provides that "no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." (42 U.S.C. Section 2000d). All transit agencies that receive some kind of federal financial assistance (which is virtually all of them) must demonstrate to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) that they do not discriminate against people with minorities.
Compliance With Title VI
Every several years, depending on the size of the transit agency, the agency must submit a report to the FTA detailing how they meet the requirements of the Title VI regulation. The essence of the report is that the agency must divide the census blocks that make up its service area into two parts: one part consists of all the census blocks that have a minority percentage greater than the minority percentage of the service area as a whole; these blocks are considered "minority" blocks. The other part, which consists of all the other census blocks, is considered the "non-minority" section. The agency must then examine level of service, age of buses, and travel time between major destinations to ensure that the "minority" section does not have a poorer level of service, older buses, and greater travel time than the "non-minority" section. If this report shows that minority areas are not receiving the same level of service as non-minority areas, then the transit agency must make changes to eliminate the disparity.
Of course, the "minority" versus "non-minority" distinction is silly in a service area that has a majority minority population. If a service area is 75% minority, then is it discriminating against minorities when it provides better service to an area that is 70% minority than an area that is 80% minority?
In addition to the periodic report, transit agencies must also conduct a Title VI assessment whenever the make major changes to a route in their network (a major change is defined as changing the service hours or length of a route by more than 25%) or any change in fares. This assessment must examine whether minorities will take an unfair brunt of these changes, and whether any reasonable modifications to the service or fare proposals may lessen the impact. In addition to an assessment, a public hearing is required .
Finally, if the transit agency receives a Title VI complaint from a member of the public, then they must investigate and respond to the complaint.
Penalties for Non-Compliance
If the transit agency does not meet Title VI requirements to the satisfaction of the FTA, then the FTA may choose to terminate all federal funding to the transit agency and refer the transit agency to the federal Department of Justice or local and state law enforcement agencies for further investigation. The threat of having essential funding cut off is a powerful motivator for the transit agency to fix any problems to the FTA's satisfaction.
Effects of Title VI
Logically it would seem that since minorities in general make up a disproportionate amount of the total number of passengers for the average transit agency that complaints that transit agencies are violating Title VI would be small in number. Indeed, complaints, especially complaints found to be valid, are rare. However, there have been high profile Title VI breaches in the recent past.
Perhaps the most important victory for Title VI activists took place in an action they brought against the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) in 1996 for violating the civil rights of minority citizens of the service area by unlawfully reducing bus service, which is used primarily by minorities, in favor of spending the money on expanding rail service, which they argued primarily benefits whites. A judge agreed with their argument, and forced a consent decree upon Metro, which forced Metro to add a large amount of bus service and in effect forbade Metro from reducing bus service or increasing fares without the court's approval. Since the consent decree expired, Metro has eliminated much of the increased bus service they were forced to add, and continues to construct expensive rail lines such as the Westside Subway Extension .
Another important victory for Title VI complainants was the decision by the federal government in 2010 that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission of the San Francisco Bay area violated Title VI by awarding federal capital dollars for the construction of BART's Oakland Airport Connector extension instead of giving the money to AC Transit of Oakland to improve bus service. The complainants in the case demonstrated that the Airport Connector, which would have primarily benefited white people, unlawfully took away funding from AC Transit, whose bus service primarily benefits minorities. Despite not being allowed to use federal money, the Airport Connector continues to move along with different funding sources.
Finally, an important early decision in this field that kind of set the tone for where we are now in terms of Title VI applicability to the transit industry happened in Atlanta in the early 1980s. In the early 1980s, Atlanta's transit system made a decision to operate the newest vehicles in their fleet out of their northern garage in a predominantly white area, and their oldest vehicles out of their southern garages, which is in a predominantly minority area. In addition, most of their bus shelters and other stop amenities were in the north. As a result of a Title VI complaint, the federal government made them redistribute their buses and shelters more equitably throughout their service area.
The Title VI regulation has been an effective tool in some cases to ensure that the transit systems of America distribute their resources in a racially equitable manner. Given the current trend of light rail construction - and the disturbing trend of bus systems reducing their bus service to pay for this construction and operation - I expect that the number of Title VI complaints may well increase in the future.