Title VI Discrimination Complaint
Against the MTA

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Press Release

Date: Wednesday, November 15, 2000
Contact: Sarah E. Massey, (212) 961-1000, ext.304 or Sarah@weact.org

Press Conference:
Date: 10:30 AM, Wednesday, November 15, 2000
Location: 271 West 125th Street, Suite 308, New York, New York 10027

Harlem Environmental Group Files a Title VI Discrimination Complaint Against the MTA

On Wednesday, November 15, West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. (WE ACT) filed a Title VI complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation stating that New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) advances a racist, discriminatory policy of disproportionately siting diesel bus depots and diesel bus parking lots in minority neighborhoods in Manhattan.

"It is time that the Federal government intervene to end the MTA's discriminatory policy of dumping toxic diesel exhaust in Northern Manhattan," said WE ACT Executive Director Peggy Shepard. "The MTA discriminates against poor people and minority neighborhoods by aggregating the health risks of diesel exhaust in our communities. Not only does the MTA site six of eight Manhattan diesel bus depots in Northern Manhattan, it is now purchasing land for parking lots to house more diesel buses in our neighborhoods," said Ms. Shepard.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act states that no agency receiving Federal funds shall administer a program that discriminates against people on the basis of race. If an agency's actions have the effect of discriminating, the agency is in violation of Civil Rights law, even if discrimination is not intentional. "The MTA would not get away with putting the diesel depots and diesel bus parking lots in other neighborhoods in Manhattan," said Ms. Shepard.

"This complaint paints a troubling picture of unfair pollution burdens being placed on communities of color in Northern Manhattan. A thorough investigation is well-warranted," said Eric Goldstein, Senior Attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental organization.

The MTA is to receive almost $5 billion in federal assistance from the U.S. Department of Transportation for 2000-2004, and it plans to spend $268.5 million to purchase 707 new diesel buses during this time period. There are healthier alternatives to diesel buses, such as compressed natural gas. The New York City Department of Transportation already manages the transition of its large bus fleet to compressed natural gas. Their plan is to fully convert the fleet of diesel buses in the coming years.

There are alternatives to siting more diesel bus depots in Northern Manhattan, such as keeping the Hudson Depot in lower Manhattan open. Retaining the Hudson Depot might allow the 100th Street and Amsterdam Depots to close. (The Hudson Depot is slated to close as part of the Hudson River park plan.) The City-wide benefit of public transportation services is Northern Manhattan's burden.

The fact that six out of eight of MTA's Manhattan bus depots and several parking lots are located north of 96th Street means that residents of these neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted by emissions from these buses. Multiple studies have demonstrated the association between ozone and smog, which develop from diesel exhaust, and emergency room visits for asthma. It is estimated that 20% of Harlem residents suffer from asthma. Children are at especially high risk for asthma, and it is the number one cause of pediatric hospitalizations in Harlem.

Several neighborhoods in Harlem have the highest rates of asthma hospitalizations in New York City, including East Harlem with an asthma hospitalization rate of 30 per 1000, compared with a national average of 3.7 per thousand. The community around the 126th Street Depot in East Harlem is over 50% African-American with a median household income of only $10,768. The community near the expanding 100th Street Depot in East Harlem shows similar statistics - close to 60% of the population is Hispanic and the median household income is $14,282. In contrast, the population below 96th Street is 7% African-American and 18% Hispanic, with a median household income more than double that in the Harlem communities of $40,903.

Residents living in the vicinity of diesel bus depots and parking lots are exposed to higher levels of diesel exhaust than other people as a result of the large volume of diesel buses accelerating out of the depots and parking lots, and idling near or inside the depots and parking lots. The Environmental Protection Agency has noted that "since a large but currently undefined portion of (diesel particulate matter) is emitted during acceleration, those living and working in the vicinity of sources operating in this transient mode could experience highly elevated levels of diesel particulate matter."

Evidence of the MTA's discriminatory diesel bus policy:

  • The MTA has sited three new diesel bus parking lots in Northern Manhattan this year, essentially expanding existing diesel bus depots. The MTA already sites six of its eight Manhattan diesel bus depots in Harlem and Washington Heights, neighborhoods that are home to over 500,000 predominantly African-American and Hispanic people. Northern Manhattan houses one-third of the MTA's diesel bus fleet, which is now over 4,200.
  • In 1998, the MTA sold the Walnut Bus Depot to the New York Post, dislocating 200 diesel buses to Northern Manhattan. The Walnut Bus Depot closure, coupled with a 20% increase in ridership demand, led to the MTA's need for increased bus parking space.
  • The MTA is re-developing its 100th Street Depot as a diesel bus depot in order to bring in 133 more diesel buses (all are articulated buses) - against enormous community outcries and despite the Governor's mandate that all new MTA bus depots are to be compressed natural gas depots. Furthermore, the MTA plans to shut down its Hudson Depot in lower Manhattan with the opening of the diesel depot at 100th Street in Harlem.
  • The MTA's Mother Hale Depot, also a diesel bus depot located in Harlem, is scheduled to expand to accommodate more diesel buses.
  • The MTA bus fleet in predominantly white Long Island uses clean fuel technology, compressed natural gas.
WE ACT has aggressively advocated for clean fuel buses and depots in Harlem and Washington Heights for over 12 years. In 1988, WE ACT filed suit against the MTA for siting its sixth diesel bus depot in Northern Manhattan and for planning to build a low-income, senior housing development on top of the depot. In 1997, in collaboration with local political leaders and the Transit Workers Union, WE ACT launched its public education campaign, "If You Live Uptown, Breathe at Your Own Risk." The campaign asked New York City and New York State to end the policy of buying diesel buses. This campaign resulted in the Governor's mandate that all new MTA depots be compressed natural gas depots, that the MTA buy 300 new compressed natural gas buses in its upcoming 2000-2004 purchase plan, and one depot per borough be converted to natural gas.

Invited participants include the community complainants of the suit, New York City elected officials - Borough President C. Virginia Fields, City Councilmember Bill Perkins, City Councilmember Philip Reed, City Councilmember Stanley Michels (and others) - local community board leaders, and leaders from the environmental movement.

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