Metro's Latest Civil Rights Trainwreck

A couple months back, we

wrote about

Metro receiving notification from the Federal Transit Administration, saying Metro had violated federal civil rights laws, but we hadn't seen a draft of the preliminary report. Now we have, and, apparently, Metro hasn't been too concerned with the federal laws.

According to the report, "the general consensus among the staff was that there was little to no awareness of METRO's Title VI Program," a program designed to ensure that Metro doesn't discriminate based on race, color, or national origin, and it evaluates the "social and economic effects of programs and activities on minority populations and low-income populations."

Furthermore, the report says, no one on staff interviewed by the FTA even knew that there was a person or department where Title VI complaints should be directed.

Tom Bazan, a Houston resident whose name should be familiar to people who follow Metro, obtained the report from the FTA, but since a lot of information has been redacted from the draft, he feels that the agency is still stonewalling him.

"For all their transparency, they still seem to be reluctant to talk about unpleasant topics," Bazan tell Hair Balls.

The complaints that were released with the report mainly focus on rail construction destroying neighborhoods, Metro moving forward with plans completely different than what was approved by voters, and the bus and rail fares being increased. There was also this:

Metro enticed one of our tenants away, and attempted to get others to move also, even before the property was sold to them -- even before federal funds were released for this project... A week after Hurricane Ike, while our lights were still out, two gentlemen from Metro came to my door, looking for tenants to move. We were still reeling from the aftermath of Ike... We were still without power... They added insult to our misery.

The FTA also conducted community interviews and found:

There was overwhelming concern regarding whether METRO will follow through on its statements to ensure that there will be access to the businesses and promised signage on the construction routes. This issue was of particular concern in the African American communities. While METRO had provided assurances, it was noted that nothing in writing had been presented to these businesses to confirm that firm plans have been put in place.

Other concerns include the bus stops in Hispanic neighborhoods being placed in front of bars, drivers not stopping for riders in minority neighborhoods, and "particular concerns for the safety and welfare of women and children."

The draft of the report doesn't included any recommendations for how Metro should go about fixing the problems, and until the final report is released, we won't know. We're waiting for word from the FTA about when the final report should be finished.

We're also waiting for a response from Metro, and we'll be sure to update when we can.

To check out the way Metro awards consulting contracts, check out this article from Texas Watchdog. Kevin Whited at Bloghouston has more.

Update: Raequel Roberts, a Metro spokeswoman, responded to our questions about the report and said that Metro has responded to the FTA report, adding that the agency's final report is complete. (The FTA hasn't responded to Hair Balls.)

As far as staff members' lack of knowledge about the Title VI Program, Roberts said that the FTA selected only three people to interview, as a sample. "We spend considerable efforts communicating with our staff about federal, state and local policies and programs and have already implemented new measures to address those areas highlighted in the report," she said via e-mail.

In response to the community interview findings, Roberts said, "We have expressed verbally and in writing our commitment to local businesses our desire to minimize the impacts of construction, including the placement of signage for local businesses."

Roberts concluded, "Compliance Reviews provide opportunities to enhance programs, such as METRO's Title VI Program. We look forward to using these recommendations to provide better service to the community."

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