BART Scrambles on Oakland Airport Connector Equity Review Failure

BART_OAC_interior_small.jpgImage: BART
BART hoped it could put debate over the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) in the past as it lined up funding, got approval from local governments, and received lower than expected construction bids, but now a scathing letter from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has sent BART scrambling to meet a March 5th deadline or lose federal stimulus funds.

In the letter, sent to BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger and Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) Director Steve Heminger on January 15th [PDF], FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff explained that BART failed to address equity concerns raised by TransForm and other advocates about the OAC. Rogoff said BART didn't meet FTA standards for conducting a Title VI equity compliance review for the Airport connector project and its impact to low-income riders and people of color.

"In light of this development, MTC and BART are now in danger of losing federal funding for the project, including American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds," said Rogoff.

The letter continued by saying that during the mid-December equity review, "BART's staff acknowledged it failed to integrate Title VI into BART's service planning and monitoring activities for the Project. BART also admitted that it did not conduct an equity evaluation of its service changes other than the one conducted on the 2009 reduction in service headways."

"BART has a long history of pandering to rich people," said BART Board Director Tom Radulovich. "I've asked for years for BART to create an equity or environmental justice policy and staff has stonewalled. They've refused to do it. Now this is coming back to haunt them."

"How can you say [OAC] is equitable or socially just if you haven't defined what that is at BART?"

TransForm's John Knox White, who has vocally raised these questions to BART directors, MTC, and the media for over a year, was hopeful the development would lead MTC to re-allocate the $70 million in ARRA funds to transit operators, who are reeling from budget crises.

"We're very happy that the FTA agreed with us that these problems existed," said White. "The question now becomes will MTC put the money where it will protect jobs and service at other operators."

When asked for further comment on the matter, FTA spokesperson Paul Griffo delivered a curt response: "The letter speaks for itself."

To respond to the equity review findings, BART sent a document to FTA on January 14th entitled, "Title VI, Environmental Justice, and Limited English Proficiency Analysis of Proposed Service and Fare Changes," but the FTA found it insufficient to meet its requirements.

"The equity analysis fails to analyze whether the Project's improvements and the service reductions would have a discriminatory impact," Rogoff said in the January 15th letter.

BART still has a chance to get the ARRA funds, assuming it provides an "acceptable action plan" that shows how it will mitigate equity impacts. BART must meet the FTA deadline of March 5th, though the FTA warns that the money could still be in jeopardy. "Even should BART submit a timely action plan acceptable to FTA, BART's implementation action will certainly extend beyond the March 5, 2010 deadline. If BART were to fail in any respect to make progress or to meet its deadlines as established in the action plan, FTA would have to de-obligate the ARRA funds for the Project and would be prohibited by law from re-obligating those funds to alternative projects in the San Francisco Bay area [emphasis original]."

If BART chooses to walk away from the ARRA funds for the OAC, it will still be required to remediate Title VI non-compliance issues.

Radulovich said the Obama administration is taking Title VI complaints more seriously than the previous administration and that BART should have learned its lesson when this same matter came up with the San Francisco Airport extension.

"I hope this is a wake-up call and I hope this leads to BART taking equity and social justice seriously," he said.