ACLU Wisconsin to Madison Metro: Concerns about transit redesign’s compliance with federal law

MADISON, Wis. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has written to the city of Madison’s metro department with concerns that its upcoming metro redesign may not be in compliance with requirements under the federal Civil Rights Act.

A copy of the letter obtained by News 3 Now urged the city to conduct further analysis to both ensure the redesign does not benefit white riders more than riders of color, as well as a separate, similar analysis related to riders with disabilities.

A spokesperson for the city’s Metro Transit told News 3 Now on Monday that they had responded to the ACLU’s letter, telling them that the requested analysis was already planned for as the redesigned maps move toward completion this year. ACLU, in response, said they would wait and see if further analysis fully addressed their concerns.

The city’s use of federal funding for its transit program means it must remain in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin for programs that use federal dollars.

“We let the ACLU know that we are planning a full Title VI service equity analysis for the transit network redesign plan once we get closer to a final route recommendation,” a Metro Transit spokesperson told News 3 in an email. “We are in the next steps of putting that together by presenting our survey results to our oversight body the Transportation Policy and Planning Commission and holding an official public hearing on Tuesday, May 31.”

RELATED: City of Madison fields thousands of suggestions, complaints, inputs on upcoming Metro Transit redesign

The ACLU letter comes after News 3 first reported in March that residents on Madison’s north and south sides had concerns about how an upcoming redesign of the city’s public transit system would affect them, particularly the elderly, disabled or low income who heavily rely on public buses.

Fewer routes, more rides: Madison’s bus route redesign has some elderly, disabled concerned

In the letter, two ACLU attorneys said they had concerns the city’s plans were not in compliance with federal law.

“This analysis should address not only whether service will be cut, but also whether identified groups of riders will receive a fair share of the benefits of the system improvements,” they wrote. “That is because the system as a whole must be equitable – and if benefits disproportionately accrue to, for example, white riders, then the system overall will not comply with equity requirements.”

The city of Madison is planning an overhaul of its metro transit system to go into effect in 2023, with new route maps designed for fewer lines and transfers but higher frequency service, with buses arriving every 15 to 30 minutes along core routes instead of every 30 to 60 minutes. Some city residents have opposed the maps because of its elimination of some lower-frequency neighborhood routes.

The  city released 13 amendments this week to its draft plans originally released in January. A public hearing for the transit redesign is set for May 31.