On August 31, 1994, the Labor/Community Strategy Center, the Bus Riders Union (a community organization formed to represent the interests of bus riders), and other organizational plaintiffs filed a class action law suit against the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and related individuals, on behalf of users of public transportation in Los Angeles County. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The Plaintiffs were represented by attorneys from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the ACLU of Southern California.
The Plaintiffs alleged that the MTA unlawfully discriminated against the predominantly minority class of inner-city and transit-dependent bus riders in its allocation of public transportation resources. They alleged that the MTA's decisions to increase bus fares, to cut access to bus passes, and to divert funding from the bus system toward the construction of light rail and subway systems, which would disproportionately benefit suburban riders not dependent on public transportation, had a discriminatory and disparate impact on plaintiff class members. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief under the Fourteenth Amendment (by way of 42 U.S.C. 1983) and Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq., among other causes of action. The Clearinghouse has not obtained a copy of the original complaint in the case.
In March 1995, the Court certified the plaintiff class, defining it to include all "poor minority and other riders of MTA buses who are denied equal opportunity to receive transportation services because of the MTA's operation of a discriminatory mass transportation system."
After a long discovery period, the parties agreed to settle the case and on October 29, 1996, shortly before the trial was scheduled to start, they entered into a comprehensive Court-approved Consent Decree, which ran for a period of ten years and which was enforced by a Special Master (Donald T. Bliss) who was granted the authority of the Court to resolve any disputes. The Consent Decree had three major components:
- It created a new weekly unlimited bus pass, priced at $11, and reduced the cost of a monthly pass from $49 to the prior rate of $42; and froze the fare rates through November 1998, thereafter for the remainder of the Decree allowing only inflationary increases.
- It obligated the MTA to reduce overcrowding on its buses and established a calendar for meeting target values of the average peak-period passenger-to-seat ratio ("load factors"). The calendar required progress from a maximum ceiling of 1.45 at the effective date of the Decree, to 1.35 by December 31, 1997, to an ultimate goal of 1.2 by June 30, 2002, which was to be maintained for the period of the Decree. To meet this requirement, the MTA would have to increase the number of buses for many routes.
- It committed the parties to developing a five-year plan for providing additional bus services or other transit services designed to increase access to employment opportunities, health care, and educational facilities, to be approved by a Joint Working Group (JWG) composed of representatives from the parties. The JWG was scheduled to reach an agreement on this plan by December 31, 2008.
By the end of 2008, the JWG had not agreed on a five-year plan, and the MTA had not yet reached the first target load factor milestone of 1.35. These issues were presented to the Special Master for resolution. In a Memorandum Decision and Order dated March 8, 1999, Special Master Bliss ordered the city to add 430 buses to its fleet in order to reduce its load factor sufficiently to meet its next scheduled milestone. He also ordered addition the MTA to remedy several other failures to adhere to the Consent Decree. Working from the remnants of the JWG's effort to produce a five-year plan, the Special Master developed a plan to bring the MTA into compliance with the requirements of the Consent Decree. The Special Master also ordered the JWG to develop a New Service Plan in place of its unfinished five-year plan.
The MTA objected to the Special Master's findings, and asked the District Court to review his March Order and a second Order dated May 14, 1999. On September 29, 1999, the Court affirmed the Special Master's Orders in part, but did direct him to reconsider the necessity of purchasing a number of buses as spares and the likelihood of the MTA reaching its June 2000 load factor goals, pursuant to newly available data.
The MTA appealed the September 1999 order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which on August 31, 2001, affirmed the lower court's order. Labor/Community Strategy Center v. Los Angeles County MTA, 263 F.3d 1041 (9th Cir. 2001). In March 18, 2002, the United States Supreme Court rejected MTA's request for certiorari (review) of the Appellate Court's decision.
The MTA failed to fully meet its target load factors milestones in 2000 and again in 2002, which prompted several further remedial Orders from the Special Master. In the summer of 2003, 57 of the bus lines monitored for compliance had peak load factors above 1.35, the 1997 goal, and 15 had peak load factors above 1.7. On January 15, 2004, the Special Master issued a Memorandum Decision and Final Order, which together with its supplements totaled 92 pages, and which among other things ordered the MTA to add 28 additional buses and over 370,000 additional in-service hours distributed across various bus routes annually. The MTA asked the Court to review the Special Master's orders, arguing that their funding was insufficient to meet its requirements. The Court affirmed the Order on June 24, 2004.
On April 14, 2005, Special Master Bliss issued one last 45 page Memorandum and Order, in response to the JWG's continuing failure to develop its own New Service Plan, which adopted elements from proposals submitted by both parties to expand bus service and which was to be completely implemented by the end of 2008.
In February 2006, Special Master Bliss resigned, and on February 23, 2006 the Court ordered the parties to propose a successor to the position. The parties submitted the proposal on April 17, 2006, but on May 3 the court declined to appoint a new Special Master, given that the Consent Decree was set to expire in October that year. The Court determined that it would decide the issues that would have been brought to the Special Master.
On May 17, 2006, the Plaintiffs filed a contempt motion against the MTA for its alleged continuing non-compliance with the Consent Decree and with the Special Master's January 15, 2004 Final Order. On May 24, 2006, the Plaintiffs motioned to have the Consent Decree extended until compliance was achieved. On October 24, 2006, the Court denied both of these motions, finding the MTA in substantial compliance with the Decree, and thus the Consent Decree expired.
On December 19, 2006, the Plaintiffs filed an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, contesting the denial of its motions. On May 5, 2009, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's order.
The case is closed and the Consent Decree is no longer in effect.Alex Colbert-Taylor - 06/27/2013