BART Loses Fed Funds for Oakland Airport Tram

New America Media, News Report, Ngoc Nguyen Posted: Feb 19, 2010

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) this week pulled $70 million in federal stimulus funds from Northern California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system for failing to analyze how a planned connector to the Oakland International Airport would affect low-income and minority riders.

The FTA faulted the BART District for not adequately complying with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits agencies that receive federal funds from discriminatory practices.

The FTA action spotlights civil rights rules compliance at BART and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, its oversight agency. The $70 million will be shifted to cash-strapped regional transit agencies, a move transportation and community advocates say will help to preserve existing transit services.

“We feel strongly that putting an extension to the Oakland Airport was like putting an addition on a house in foreclosure. Taking care of the responsibilities we already have with [existing] transit, we’re being better stewards by doing that,” said Rev. Scott Denman of St. John's Episcopal Church in Oakland, Calif., and the president of Genesis, one of the advocacy groups that filed the Title VI complaint against BART. “This is money that will be well spent on existing systems that people rely on to get to work and to the doctor, and get out to do the things that they need to do to survive.”

Last month, the MTC directed BART to submit a corrective action plan and get it approved by the FTA by February 17. The FTA had given BART until March 5 to comply with federal civil rights laws or risk losing the funds entirely.

But FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff said his agency rejected BART’s corrective action plan, saying in a letter to BART and the MTC, “there is no way [BART] can come into full compliance with Title VI by September 20, 2010.” Funds that have not been disbursed by that date must be returned to the U.S. Treasury.

BART did not return repeated calls seeking comment on the FTA decision. However, BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger issued a press release that said in part, “BART is extremely disappointed and dismayed the FTA will not use its discretion to allow stimulus funding to the Oakland Airport Connector while BART is working to remedy Title VI deficiencies. BART’s commitment to Title VI and Civil Rights is strong and abiding and we are fully committed to completing and correcting any deficiencies in our program. The action plan we submitted to FTA makes that clear.”

If BART fails to remedy its Title VI violations, it risks losing an additional $105 million in federal funding for the proposed airport connector.

Under a plan agreed to by the MTC, the $70 million will be divided among other regional transit agencies, potentially averting proposed layoffs, service cuts and fare increases. The funds must be committed by March 5. BART, which has a $25 million deficit in its current budget, would get $17 million, as would MUNI, San Francisco’s bus system, which faces a nearly $17 million budget gap this fiscal year.

The stimulus money may postpone the pain, but it won’t solve MUNI’s budget hole, said MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler.

“It’s not that much money and it’s one time,” he said. Rentschler called the deficit MUNI faces next year a “$4 million-a-month problem.” “[$17 million] will get them going for three months,” he said.

MUNI faces a nearly $53 million budget gap next year, and city officials are considering steep fare increases and service cuts to keep the deficit from ballooning to $103 million. Recently, unionized bus drivers rejected $15 million in concessions.

Rev. Denman of St. John’s Episcopal Church said there is a lot of political will to build the airport connector, especially among elected officials and commissioners who want to leave behind a legacy. And, at a time when California’s jobless rate tops 12 percent, many people are coveting construction jobs.

“We’re all under economic stress right now but it won’t be solved by short term construction projects, but by us paying attention to each other and treating each other equitably, and by taking care of the things we’ve committed to, MUNI, the bus system, and BART. We have an existing BART system that is suffering,” he said. “Hurting people that need help the most is not the way to solve economic problems.”

The FTA investigated the Title VI complaint filed in September by Public Advocates on behalf of Oakland-based community advocacy groups Genesis, Urban Habitat and TransForm.

Their complaint alleged that the airport connector project would cause economic hardships for many low-income and minority riders, including thousands of airport workers because it would more than double train fares.

They also complained that the tram would not make stops along its route in Oakland, depriving residents in a low-income, primarily black and Latino neighborhood of access to jobs and retail opportunities along a main business corridor.

Related Articles:

Obama Administration Threatens to Yank Stimulus Funds Over Civil Rights




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