Calling for Civil Rights Probe of Fairmount Line

Racial Justice

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice today called upon the U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal transportation authorities to investigate recent cancellations by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) of commuter trains on the Fairmount Commuter Rail Line. These cancellations fall disproportionately on minority and low-income communities and therefore raise significant questions about whether the cancellations violate federal civil rights laws.

In the letter sent today, the Lawyers’ Committee noted that commuter trains on the Fairmount Commuter Line have been repeatedly cancelled over the past several months. Because the Fairmount line runs through Roxbury and Dorchester and other Boston neighborhoods that are home to many minority and low-income residents, the impact of these cancellations is experienced disproportionately by minority and low-income riders. To make matters worse, the Fairmount trains have been diverted to other lines that have much less diverse ridership.

These cancellations follow closely upon other MBTA actions that similarly call into question the MBTA’s commitment to transportation equity. Earlier this year, for example, the MBTA cancelled late-night bus service without undertaking the equity analysis that is required under federal law before any such change. Only after federal authorities expressed concerns to MBTA officials did the agency agree to undertake such an analysis – and then cancelled the service anyway, despite compelling evidence of its disproportionate impact on minority and low-income communities.

The MBTA’s lack of sensitivity to racial justice and civil rights issues has arisen in other aspects of its operation as well. For example, the Lawyers’ Committee currently represents a Black 16-year old who was unlawfully removed from an MBTA train as a result of racial profiling by MBTA officials. The civil rights complaint to the MBTA regarding this incident, filed over two months ago, remains unaddressed.

The Lawyers’ Committee therefore strongly supports an investigation by federal authorities of MBTA’s compliance with federal transportation equity laws.

Our call for a civil rights investigation was featured in the Boston Globe and BNN News. It was also reported nationally by the Associated Press.