Metro

Capuano asks DOJ to review whether Keolis violated civil rights

Passengers at the Morton Street stop awaited an early morning train. Trains on the Fairmount Line often are canceled.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Passengers at the Morton Street stop awaited an early morning train. Trains on the Fairmount Line often are canceled.

US Representative Michael E. Capuano is asking the Department of Justice and the Federal Transit Administration to review whether Keolis Commuter Services violated federal civil rights laws by taking trains from a line that serves lower-income and diverse communities to use on suburban lines.

In a letter sent Monday, Capuano, a Democrat from Somerville, said the Fairmount Line runs through several lower-income neighborhoods that many people of color call home, and where many residents have “little choice but to rely on public transit for their economic well-being.”

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The line starts in Hyde Park and runs through Mattapan, Roxbury, and Dorchester on its way to South Station.

“Intentionally diverting trains from these communities to serve other, more affluent communities raises questions of economic and racial injustice,” Capuano wrote to US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Carolyn Flowers, acting administrator of the FTA. “I am not in a position to be certain of such injustice — but the situation certainly causes me to wonder.”

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The Globe reported Sunday that Keolis had canceled 17 trains on the Fairmount Line, a modest commuter rail line that runs within the city of Boston. On Monday, Keolis, which runs the commuter rail for the MBTA, confirmed that the Fairmount Line has had more cancellations than any other line this month.

Leslie Aun, a Keolis spokeswoman, said the company works closely with the MBTA to ensure that it is complying with civil rights law, and has taken steps to ensure its decisions don’t have “unintended consequences on any community on a consistent basis.”

She said the company is currently 14 coaches short of the 359 it is required to provide because of a backlog in maintenance inspections. The company is in the process of adding 85 people to its mechanical team to complete inspections more quickly, she said.

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The MBTA’s spokesman, Joe Pesaturo, said in an e-mail that “the cancellation of any train is unacceptable and we are especially concerned if a cancellation could be perceived as inequitable to our low-income or minority riders.” He also said the agency has already asked Keolis to “correct the failure.”

According to the last available data from 2009, the Fairmount Line serves the highest percentage of riders of color in the commuter rail system. That year, about 35 percent of Fairmount Line riders identified as black in a survey. By comparison, the line with the next highest proportion of black riders was the Middleborough/Lakeville line, with 11 percent.

The Fairmount Line, along with the Middleborough/Lakeville line, also reported the lowest household incomes, according to the survey. MBTA officials will present updated demographics of riders next year, Pesaturo said.

On Monday, Train 750 on the Fairmount Line, which had been canceled five days in a row earlier this month, was almost canceled again. Riders were advised by text message to take the 21 bus to Ashmont station, but Keolis later restored the train. Some riders, however, did not receive the message or were already on alternate routes by the time the train rolled into the station.

Critics of the cancellations, such as Rafael Mares, of the Conservation Law Foundation, say they point to a larger failure by the MBTA and Keolis Commuter Services: being unable to handle its current ridership.

On Monday, Keolis blamed leaves on the tracks for causing slippery rails that led to delays on several lines. Those affected included Haverhill and the Worcester-Framingham line.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.
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