BART Responds to FTA Rebuke, Defends Minority and Equity Practices

Coliseum_Station_small.jpgProposed Coliseum Station OAC connections. Photo: BART
In a strongly worded reply to Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Administrator Peter Rogoff yesterday [PDF], a number of BART Board Directors and General Manager Dorothy Dugger contested the FTA's assertion that BART has not complied with its obligations to minority riders under Federal Civil Rights Act Title VI in relation to the fare for the future Oakland Airport Connector (OAC). Citing a number of public meetings and involvement by several minority organizations in planning for the OAC, the letter asserts that BART is inclusive in its planning process and encourages public input.

"Our organization always has been and will continue to be committed to providing non-discriminatory, equitable, accessible and safe public transportation to the communities and residents of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area," reads the letter. "BART takes strong exception to the assertion in your January 15 letter suggesting otherwise and the alleged admission by BART during the compliance review conducted in December 2009."

At the same time, the letter says that BART will do everything required of it by the FTA to guarantee that the $70 million in federal stimulus funds in question will not be de-obligated and sent elswhere, a move that could imperil the OAC.

BART spokesperson Linton Johnson struck an even more conciliatory tone, saying that conversations with the FTA throughout the day yesterday had changed dramatically and that BART was confident it would meet all its obligations to establish an action plan by the March 5th deadline imposed by the FTA for the federal stimulus money.

"We believe that all the Title VI work that we’ve done over the years is legally sound and meets legal muster," said Johnson.

At the same time, Johnson acknowledged that BART needed to establish clearer standards. "The guidelines under which a policy is set that defines a major service change I don’t think has been met by BART." Explaining why BART didn't do a more thorough equity analysis on the fares for the OAC prior to this point, Johnson said, "Our reasoning has been that we didn’t conduct a fare equity study because we don’t know what the fare is going to be."

"We have a clear path forward to resolve these issues and receive the federal money," vowed Johnson, adding that there were benchmarks along the way before March that would help them reach their obligations.

John Knox White of TransForm, a consistent critic of the OAC project, said TransForm and its allies would continue to push for BART to complete more rigorous analysis of the project's equity impacts. He also said BART's response demonstrates an inability to understand the issue at hand.

"Nobody is arguing that there weren't public meetings on the OAC, the issue is that these meetings did not present accurate or credible information," said White. "BART's staff refused to present information requested by MTC Commissioners, the ACTIA Board, Port of Oakland Commissioners, the Oakland City Council, and members of their own Board, as well as Bay Area residents and community organizations."

"BART has already attempted a slapdash analysis of this project and it has been rejected by the FTA. It is not be credible to have BART staff rehire the same OAC consultants who were paid thousands of dollars to 'debunk' TransForm’s RapidBART proposal and the community," said White, referring to a May 2009 email from Tom Dunscombe, OAC Project Manager at BART, to several consultants on the project. 

In the email, Dunscombe asked the consultants to debase TransForm's RapidBART proposal. "Any information you can provide to put holes in this would be appreciated - we have some worried Board members and I need to easily discredit this 'paper,'" he wrote.

Notably absent from the BART letter to the FTA was Board Director Tom Radulovich, who yesterday told Streetsblog that BART staff has repeatedly "stonewalled" his requests for the agency to develop equity and social justice policies.

Johnson confirmed that Radulovich had asked for those policies, among many other requests. "He has asked staff to do a lot of work that in legal’s opinion wasn’t legally required," said Johnson.

"We believe we’ve been legally compliant in what we were supposed to do."

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission had no comment for this story, though spokesperson Randy Rentschler told Streetsblog they would have more later today.