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                                                                                                        Downtown Los Angeles 

Historical Context

In 1990, Los Angeles County was home to 8,863,000 people (US Census) and that over 4 million of those people commuted daily (LA Almanac). 9.6% of the Los Angeles County is African American and 47.3% is of Hispanic or Latino origin (well above the state's average). The mean household income for the county in 2004 was $43,518 when the state average was just under $50,000. Among bus riders, however, 69% had an annual household income of $15,000 (well below the poverty line) and 405 had household incomes under $7,500. There are 2,344.1 people in LA County per square mile (217.2 on average for California). The county's large population and high number of commuters overtly indicate an overcrowding issue and, with about 16% of the county's population living in poverty, easy access to public transportation is absolutely essential. The people who rely most on this public transit service are not only disproportionately poor, but also people of color.

Since the 1970s, MTA has experienced a clear decrease and lack in funding. In 1971, the Transportation Development Act sales tax was ratified; unfortunately it led to limited funding and MTA was forced to increase fares (Garcia and Rubin). in 1980, a voter-initiative proposed and passed a half-cent sales tax in LA County for transit purposes (Garcia and Rubin). This program actually decreased bus fares, but resulted in an influx of bus passengers while no new lines were created. By 1985 the program fizzled out and MTA looked towards the construction of new rail lines. These rail projects cost more than expected and a substantial lack of resources lead to MTA's decision to implement major fare increases, from $1.10 to $1.35, and the complete elimination of its monthly pass (originally costing $42) to begin on September 1, 1994. This would have prevented poorer bus riders from reaching jobs, doctors, and other basic services. A majority of these riders are people of color with a lower income standing.

Plaintiff's Argument

This suit was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc. (LDF) on behalf of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, the Bus Riders Union, and other community groups in August of 1994. The suit has based on two major claims: (1) that MTA intentionally discriminated against poor minority bus riders, and (2) that the MTA's actions had a discriminatory impact on poor people of color. MTA's unequitable policies and practices violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and President Clinton's Executive Order 12898 (passed 2/11/94).

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc and the Plaintiffs held that MTA's actions had a discriminatory impact on people of color in a variety of ways. This included MTA's historic tendency to disproportionately overspend on its rail projects while choosing to neglect maintaining its bus operations. This disparate spending has consequentially been the steady demise of one of the nation's largest bus systems.

Defendant's Argument 

From what I could find, this was the first time that the MTA had been sued in regards to an environmental justice issue. On July 14, 1994, the MTA voted to: (1) raise the bus fare from $1.10 to $1.35; (2) eliminate the $42 per month working people's pass; (3) institute a 90-cent bus token that can be purchased at selected locations (not on the actual bus); (4) reduce bus service on several bus lines.

MTA held that it carried 85% of the LA County's bus passengers with its established lines. In order for it to fulfill its goals to expand railway lines, it must increase bus fares. It also argued that these fare increases and service cuts would save the agency $32 million per year (out of their total budget of $2.9 billion).

Reaching a Settlement

On September 1, 1994, LSCS, BTU, et al. sued the MTA's policies by launching a class action civil rights suit. Judge Terry Hatter issued a temporary restraining order and stopped the MTA from increasing bus fares. Then, in a pre-trial compromise (on October 28, 1996) MTA agreed to drop the price of the monthly pass, but to raise the one-way bus fare as a way to protect the public transportation-dependent. The Court was able to rule that any future moves by the MTA to amend the agreement would have to go through the more stringent rules guaranteed by the Consent Decree.

The main achievements of the settlement include improvements in mass transportation for all bus riders. Key elements of this include the decrease in the monthly unlimited-use bus pass (from $49 to $42) and the bi-weekly general pass ($26.50 to $21), and a promise to decrease bus overcrowding. To decrease the number of passengers on each bus, MTA agreed to purchase 102 new buses, to reduce the number of permitted standees in each bus, and to expand the bus service to new areas of the city.

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