Washington DC: transit policy and language policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Oct 26 14:16:40 UTC 2007


Bad transit policyPosted Oct 25 2007


Amid talks of fare increases and a projected $109 million budget deficit in
fiscal 2009, spending nearly $12,000 to teach a few employees Spanish is a
bad move by Metro. On Tuesday, Gary Emerling of The Washington Times
reported that the region's transit authority is providing occupational
Spanish classes for 18 Metro employees — "six bus operators, six station
managers and six street supervisors" — in order to comply with federal
requirements to provide service to customers who are not proficient in
English.

There are several obvious problems with this program. The first is that it
is simply unreasonable to single out Hispanics. The second is that while
$12,000 doesn't seem much in the big fiscal picture, the fact is that, in
order to avoid a $116 million budget deficit for fiscal 2008, General
Manager John Catoe cut more than 200 jobs. But with an even larger deficit
looming next year, now is not the time to spend frivolously.

There is no evidence to suggest that this language program is even
necessary. In August 2000, President Clinton announced an executive order on
limited English proficiency (LEP) that required all federal agencies to
provide sufficient services to non-English speakers. Noncompliance, the
order said, is a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
which "prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national
origin." Since Metro receives grants from the Federal Transit Authority, it
is responsible for fulfilling those requirements. Metro made the decision to
allocate part of its budget to teach Spanish in response to a circular
published in April by the FTA with suggested guidelines for LEP programs.

What's more, according to FTA spokesman Paul Griffo, the language program
was the brainchild of Metro alone, based on suggestions in the FTA handbook.
It's not as if Metro would face penalties if it were to make no changes to
its current system, which includes translation options on its Web site and
automated phone line.

We contacted transit authorities in Boston, New York and Los Angeles, where
Mr. Catoe worked before joining Metro. None of them, officials told us, used
budget dollars to teach employees a foreign language. Like Metro, they
provide easily accessible and sufficient translations of all important
information.

Spending public dollars on unnecessary programs and then telling Metro
riders and local taxpayers to pony up more money is beyond the pale of
reasonable public policy — and Mr. Catoe should know as much.
http://chinaaid.org/2007/10/25/bad-transit-policy/

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