Civil Rights


U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) / Federal Transit Administration (FTA) civil rights regulations address non-discrimination in planning and service provision (Title VI), contracting/procurement (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise - DBE), planning (particularly for but not limited to construction projects) and public involvement (Environmental Justice), and employment (Equal Employment Opportunity - EEO).  Managers rural public transit system must be aware of (and comply with) the following civil rights requirements as they design their programs, hire employees, contract out work, provide services, and develop facilities. 

Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, is also considered a civil rights law.  The ADA requirements for public transit systems are introduced in the ADA section of this toolkit.

This section is organized in the following subsections:

Title VI

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” (see 42 U.S. Code Section 2000d).  All organizations receiving FTA funding are subject to Title VI and the U.S. DOT’s implementing regulations (49 CFR Part 21). This applies to both recipients and subrecipients, with the basic requirements applying to all FTA grantees. Additional requirements are triggered by operation of fixed route services, and other requirements are triggered by peak fixed route fleet size and population served.  Contractors and subcontractors do not have to prepare or submit their own separate Title VI programs, but they are responsible for being aware of and complying with the Title VI program of the recipient with whom they are contracting.

The following are general Title VI requirements for all FTA recipients and subrecipients, as detailed in [FTA Circular 4702.1B]:

  • Submission of an annual Title VI certification and assurance to FTA (subrecipients submit to the state or other primary recipient passing through FTA funds)
  • Development of Title VI complaint procedures, including procedures for submitting, investigating, and tracking such complaints
  • Tracking of Title VI investigations, complaints, and lawsuits
  • Development and implementation of a public participation plan that includes an outreach plan to engage minority and limited English proficient populations
  • Provision of meaningful access to individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) (described below)
  • Notice to the public of protections offered under Title VI
  • Efforts to encourage minority representation on transit-related non-elected planning and advisory bodies (see the Mission and Leadership section for more information)
  • Submission of a Title VI program to FTA (subrecipients submit to the state or other primary recipient) every three years, including:
    • Title VI notice and instructions on how to file a discrimination complaint
    • List of any Title VI investigations, complaints or lawsuits
    • Public participation plan along with a summary of public outreach and involvement activities, and a description of steps to ensure that minority and low-income people have meaningful access to activities
    • Plan for providing language assistance to people with LEP
    • Procedures for tracking and investigating Title VI complaints
    • If the recipient or subrecipient has any transit-related, non-elected planning boards, advisory councils or committees, or similar bodies, a table depicting the racial breakdown of the membership of the group and a description of efforts made to encourage the participation of minorities.
    • If the recipient/subrecipient has constructed a facility that requires a Title VI equity analysis (introduced below)
    • If the recipient/subrecipient operates fixed route service, system-wide services and policies (introduced below)

For more information on Title VI Programs, and to view sample checklists, templates, standards, etc., see the Title VI Requirements and Guidelines for Federal Transit Administration Recipients circular, FTA C 4702.1B (effective October 1, 2012).

Language Assistance for Persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP)  

Limited English Proficiency (LEP) persons are persons for whom English is not their primary language.  They are also limited in their ability to speak, understand, read or write English.  Transit agencies that receive FTA funding are required to take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to information, services and the benefits of their programs for LEP persons.  This can include, but is not limited to, translating service information into commonly spoken languages or using images to convey information instead of words.

Recipients/subrecipients are required to conduct a “Four Factor Analysis” to determine the specific language services that are appropriate to provide:

  • Factor 1: Determining the Number and Proportion of LEP Persons Served or Encountered in the Service Area
  • Factor 2: Determine the Frequency with Which LEP Individuals Come into Contact with NRCS Programs, Activities, and Services
  • Factor 3: Determine the Importance to LEP Persons of the Program Activities and Services
  • Factor 4: Determine the Resource Available to the Recipient and Costs

This analysis takes into account the size of the LEP populations in the service area, communication needs to provide meaningful access to important programs and services, and the resources available/costs to provide language assistance services.

For more information about LEP programs, see Implementing the Department of Transportation’s Policy Guidance Concerning Recipients’ Responsibilities to Limited English Proficient (LEP) Persons.

Additional Requirements for Transit Agencies with Fixed Route Services

All transit agencies that operate fixed route services, regardless of size or rural service area, must set system-wide standards and policies for each type of fixed route service they operate. The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that service and amenities are distributed fairly across the transit system and operations practices do not result in discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Fixed route modes for the purpose of this requirement include local bus, express bus, commuter bus, bus rapid transit, light rail, subway, commuter rail, and passenger ferry.

As detailed in FTA Circular 4702.1B, Chapter VI, system-wide standards are quantitative, and must include, for each mode:

  • Vehicle load – typically expressed as the ratio of passengers to the total number of seats on a vehicle – indicates what would be an acceptable level of crowding on a vehicle.  For example, a transit agency’s maximum vehicle load might be 100%, which would mean its standard is to have no standees on a fixed route.  If a transit agency experiences heavy ridership on a regular basis, its maximum vehicle load might allow for standees.  For example, if a vehicle seating capacity is 25, and it can comfortably accommodate 5 standees, or 60 passengers total, the ratio would be 30 divided by 25, or 120%.
  • Vehicle headway – typically expressed as the amount of time between two vehicles traveling in the same direction on a given route – indicates service frequency.  For example, a transit agency might set a standard of 60-minute headways, meaning each fixed route would operate on an hourly basis.  In very rural or remote areas, the headway standard might be much less frequent, such as every 90 minutes or every 2 hours.
  • On-time performance – indicates number of vehicle runs completed as scheduled – must define what is considered to be “on time.”  For example, a transit agency might define “on time” as departing each designated time point along the route no earlier than the published time point and no later than 5 minutes after the published time point.  Then it might set its standard as having 95% of its vehicle runs operated within this 5-minute window of flexibility.
  • Service availability – a general measure of the distribution of routes within a transit provider’s service area, such as the percentage of all residents in the service area are within walking distance to a route, or the maximum distance between stops.  For example, a transit agency might set a standard of placing bus stops along its fixed routes as no further apart than every quarter mile in more densely populated areas, and every mile in more sparsely populated areas.

Appendix G to FTA Circular 4702.1B, as well as pages VI-5 to VI-6 of the circular, provides additional examples of fixed route service standards.

System-wide policies for fixed route mode must include:

  • Distribution of transit amenities – including items of comfort, convenience, and safety that are available to the general riding public, such as benches, shelters, signage, and trash receptacles. Fixed route transit providers need to set a policy to ensure equitable distribution of transit amenities across the system.  For example, a transit agency might establish a policy to place amenities based on proximity to places such as affordable housing, social services, employment training centers, hospitals and other locations, as well as distributing equitably across the fixed route system.
  • Vehicle assignment – how vehicles are assigned to routes, which could include such factors as age or capacity of vehicles.  For example, a transit agency might establish a policy to rotate vehicles assigned to fixed routes to ensure that newer vehicles are not always assigned to the same routes.

Appendix H of FTA Circular 4702.1B, as well as page VI-6 of the circular, provides additional examples of fixed route policies.

Transit agencies that serve large urbanized areas in addition to rural areas, and operate 50 or more vehicles in peak fixed route service, have more extensive requirements, such as conducting equity analyses for service and fare changes and collecting, reporting, and monitoring data, that are detailed in FTA 4702.1B, Chapter IV.

Title VI Equity Analysis When Selecting Location of Some New Facilities

A recipient/subrecipient that is planning to construct a new vehicle storage facility, maintenance facility, or operations center is required to conduct a Title VI equity analysis during the planning stage with regard to the location of the facility. This requirement is intended to prevent potential discrimination in determining the preferred site for a new facility’s location. This requirement does not apply to bus shelters, which are considered transit amenities, or transit stations which are subject to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements under the project development.  For more information, see FTA Circular 4702.1B, pages III-11 to III-12.

Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE)

The U.S. DOT DBE requirements are intended to create a level playing field for DBEs in competing for federally-funded contracts. A DBE is a for-profit small business owned and controlled by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual.  An FTA recipient must develop a DBE program if it receives FTA planning, capital and/or operating assistance and will award prime contracts (excluding vehicle purchases) exceeding $250,000 in FTA funds in a federal fiscal year.  Subrecipients participate in the State DOT’s DBE program and report to the state on DBE contracting activity.  Also, FTA-funded vehicle procurements must require transit vehicle manufacturer bidders to certify that they have complied with FTA DBE program requirements.

DBE Program Elements

The following are the required elements of a DBE program document, as presented by the FTA in a training webinar for Region VI entitled U.S. DOT’s Disadvantaged Enterprise (DBE) Program: The Basics, supplemented with requirements detailed in 49 CFR Part 26:

  • Policy statement – this is a written statement of commitment to the DBE program, and it should be signed by the highest officer in the organization and circulated throughout the organization and to the business communities that perform U.S. DOT-assisted work for the organization.
  • Standard contract assurances – a nondiscrimination clause should be included in every contract signed with a contractor and every contract that contractors sign with subcontractors (when drafting, use exact language from 49 CFR Part 26.13 (b)).
  • DBE liaison officer – this is the individual responsible for the implementation of the DBE program
  • DBE goals and goal-setting methodology – the organization must set an overall goal for DBE participation in U.S. DOT-assisted contracts, with transit-specific overall three-year agency goals, which must be submitted to FTA annually and updated at least every three years. A DBE goal should be based on ready, able and willing DBE firms relative to all firms available to perform on all contracts. Goal-setting methodology requirements are detailed in 49 CFR Section 26.45.  The State DOT includes its subrecipient procurements in the state’s DBE goal, and the subrecipient needs to comply with the state’s DBE program requirements, which may require more frequent goal-setting.
  • Prompt payment and retainage provisions –the organization must establish a contract clause to require prime contractors to pay subcontractors for satisfactory performance of their contracts no later than 30 days from receipt of each payment made to the prime contractor. The organization must also ensure prompt and full payment of retainage from the prime contractor to the subcontractor within 30 days after the subcontractor's work is satisfactorily completed. Methods to comply with this requirement are detailed in 49 CFR Section 26.29. 
  • Good faith efforts criteria – the transit agency must make good faith efforts to meet the organization’s DBE goals through methods detailed in 49 CFR Section 26.51.
  • Monitoring and enforcement mechanism – to ensure that DBEs are performing the contracted work, including written certification that the manager has reviewed contracting records and monitored work sites for this purpose.  (See Section 26.37 for greater detailed requirements.)
  • Small business provision (new rule) – the organization needs to fosters small business participation in its contracts, taking all reasonable steps to eliminate obstacles to small business participation, as detailed in 49 CFR Section 26.39.

The Unified Certification Program (UCP) is the state-level entity responsible for certifying eligible firms as DBEs.  To be counted toward meeting the agency’s DBE goal, a firm must be certified as a DBE by the state’s UCP at the time of the execution of the contract. 

FTA and U.S. DOT requirements and guidance on DBE can be found on several pages of the FTA website, include the DBE Overview web page, DBE RegulationsDBE Guidance, and DBE training materials.

The Southern Nevada Transit Coalition provided a sample transit agency DBE program plan.

DBE Certifications for Transit Vehicle Manufacturers

To be eligible to bid or propose on FTA-assisted transit vehicle procurements, each transit vehicle manufacturer must certify that it has complied with FTA DBE program requirements. Generally, a transit vehicle manufacturer must be listed on FTA's Eligible Transit Vehicle Manufacturers (TVMs) List at the time of solicitation. Vehicle contract awards may only be counted toward achievement of the organization’s DBE goal if this is approved by FTA.

Effective November 2014, FTA recipients must submit to the FTA, within 30 days of making an award, the name of the successful bidder and the total dollar value of the contract.  This is done online using the FTA’s Transit Vehicle Award Reporting Form, which is used to report the required information on transit vehicle procurement awards via the TVM web page.   If a State DOT has a statewide vehicle contract, they may do the reporting for vehicles ordered off the state contract; the transit manager should check with the State DOT.

Environmental Justice

Executive Order 12898, Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations, requires federal agencies to address “disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their programs, policies and activities on minority populations and/or low-income populations.”  Environmental justice is an important planning consideration for rural transit providers when they are planning for a project involving new construction, major rehabilitation or renovation of a facility.  FTA Circular 4703.1, Environmental Justice Policy Guidance for Federal Transit Administration Recipients contains information to assist State DOTs, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and transit providers in (1) engaging minority and/or low-income populations (“EJ populations”) during the transportation decision-making process; (2) determining the impact of projects, policies and activities on EJ populations, and assessing whether those impacts are disproportionately high and have adverse human health or environmental effects; and (3) avoiding, minimizing, or mitigating these negative effects.  The circular provides recommendations, clarification and guidance.

The following are the three fundamental environmental justice principles as defined in the FTA circular: 

  • To avoid, minimize, or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects, including social and economic effects, on minority populations and low-income populations.
  • To ensure the full and fair participation by all potentially affected communities in the transportation decision-making process.
  • To prevent the denial of, reduction in, or significant delay in the receipt of benefits by minority and low-income populations.

FTA regulations state that Title VI and environmental justice apply to all U.S. DOT programs, policies, and activities, including, but not limited to: contracting, system planning, project development, implementation, operation, monitoring, and maintenance. 

The circular provides recommendations for how to fully engage environmental justice populations in the transportation decision-making process (as part of public involvement efforts, involving a demographic analysis), determine adverse effects of a public transportation project, policy, or activity on environmental justice populations, and how to avoid, minimize, or mitigate these effects.  FTA recommends in the circular that environmental justice principles be included as part of statewide, metropolitan, and local long- and short-range planning process, as well as local planning activities and service delivery of local transit providers. 

The U.S. DOT requires consideration of environmental justice issues during preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  An EIS is developed as part of a project subject to National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) review process.  For rural transit agencies, the NEPA review process is most likely to be required when planning for a project involving new construction, major rehabilitation or renovation of a facility, because other types of FTA-funded rural transit projects are generally considered “categorical exclusions” under the NEPA requirements.  An environmental justice analysis includes:

  • Demographic analysis to determine the EJ populations that could be affected by the proposed project
  • Determining the adverse effects of the proposed project on the surrounding community, and whether or not these adverse effects would be disproportionately high on human health or the environment for EJ populations compared to other community members (and likewise if non-EJ populations would experience the potential benefits of the project significantly more than the EJ populations)
  • Public engagement in the planning process, involving substantial outreach, ensuring that EJ populations and other community members have an opportunity to express their concerns about the proposed project

Rural transit agencies that plan to undertake new construction and major rehabilitation or renovation projects should consult with their State DOT regarding environmental justice requirements associated with the project.

A State DOT may also require that principles of environmental justice be considered by their subrecipients when planning transit service changes or new services, potentially in conjunction with the Title VI analysis that is required for some transit agencies. Transit managers should refer to their State DOT’s requirements before planning major service changes or new services. For more information, see the Civil Rights section of this toolkit as well as FTA Circular 4703.1, Environmental Justice Policy Guidance for Federal Transit Administration Recipients.

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) refers to statutes and regulations that prohibit employment discrimination and provide employees and job applicants protections and remedies against employment discrimination. These protections and remedies were established under a series of Federal laws that are enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  These laws prohibit discrimination against a job applicant or an employee on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also against the law to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.  EEOC regulations are detailed in 29 CFR Parts 1600-1699.

As stated in FTA Circular 4704.1A, EEO Guidance, “Under Federal Transit Laws, FTA is responsible for ensuring that its recipients do not engage in employment discrimination:

A person may not be excluded from participating in, denied a benefit of, or discriminated against under, a project, program, or activity receiving financial assistance under this chapter because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or age. (49 U.S.C. Section 5332(b))”

To ensure non-discrimination in employment, FTA requires that FTA applicants, recipients, subrecipients, and contractors that employ 50 or more transit-related employees and either: 1) request or receive capital or operating assistance in excess of $1 million in the previous Federal fiscal year, or 2) request or receive planning assistance in excess of $250,000 in the previous Federal fiscal year to prepare and maintain an EEO Program. 

EEO Program Requirements

FTA applicants, recipients, subrecipients, and contractors that meet the dollar thresholds and have 100 or more transit-related employees must submit a full EEO program to FTA every four years. Such organizations that employ between 50-99 transit-related employees and meet the dollar thresholds have reduced requirements.  The smaller organizations must develop an abbreviated EEO Program that is only required to be submitted to FTA if requested by FTA.  The abbreviated EEO Program includes the following elements:

  • Statement of policy – FTA requires a signed and dated EEO policy statement issued by the agency’s Chief Operating Officer (CEO) / General Manager (GM) covering all employment and personnel practices, including recruitment, hiring, promotions, terminations, transfers, layoffs, classification, compensation, training, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.
  • Dissemination, both internally and externally – FTA requires agencies to publicize and disseminate their EEO policy statement by posting it in conspicuous locations so that employees, applicants, and potential applicants are aware of the agency’s commitment to EEO. Agencies are required to disseminate their EEO policy internally and externally.
  • Designation of personnel responsible for carrying out the EEO Program, including the designation of an EEO Officer – FTA requires agencies to designate an executive as EEO Officer who will report to and is directly responsible to the agency’s CEO/GM. FTA requires agencies and their senior managers to give the EEO Officer support and assign sufficient staff to successfully carry out the EEO Program, as appropriate.  The EEO Officer’s contact information must be published in all internal and external communications regarding the agency’s EEO Program.
  • Assessment of the agency’s employment practices – FTA requires agencies to document their employment practices with sufficient detail to identify trends and any practices that may operate as employment barriers, identify all problem areas, and propose a program of corrective actions as part of their EEO Program.

Organizations that employ 100 or transit-related employees must also include the following elements in their EEO programs:

  • Utilization analysis – identifying job categories that have an underutilization or concentration of minorities and women in relation to their availability in the relevant labor market (showing where problems may exist in the agency).
  • Goals and timetables – setting numerical goals to correct employment practices that contributed to any identified underutilization or concentration for the next four-year period.
  • Monitoring and reporting – establishing an internal monitoring and reporting system to assess the results of action plans taken since the last program submission, evaluate the EEO Program at least semiannually and to take any necessary corrective action regarding the development and execution of programs, goals, and timetables, and produce documentation that supports actions to implement the plan for minority and female job applicants or employees and informs management of the program’s effectiveness.

For more information, refer to FTA Circular 4704.1A.

Requirements for Other FTA Recipients and Subrecipients

Organizations that do not meet the FTA EEO Program thresholds are not required to submit an EEO Program to FTA, but they are still required to comply with all applicable EEO statutes and regulations. This includes having a process for accepting, investigating, and resolving EEO complaints including directing individual complaints to the EEOC (required under 29 CFR part 1691).  Employers must post EEO notices visible to employees, applicants for employment and union members (29 CFR Section 1601.30).

As a best practice, FTA recipients and subrecipients that do not meet the thresholds triggering an FTA EEO Program should nonetheless adopt an EEO statement of policy, disseminate the policy internally and externally, and designate an EEO officer.  Some State DOTs require these for their FTA subrecipients.

For more information on each of these Civil Rights topics, see the FTA Civil Rights/ADA web page.

Section Sources

Updated November 20, 2020