BUS STOPPED: Court Stays Ruling On Charter Service Rule

Posted on June 30, 2010 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., attacks private charter buses as she tries to resurrect her anti-business amendment.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — After a federal amendment blocking access to private charter bus service in King County, Wash., was ruled unconstitutional, a court on Tuesday ordered a temporary stay to give opponents of the decision time to make their arguments.

The amendment that was rendered unconstitutional had been placed by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in last year’s Department of Transportation appropriations bill. It prohibited the Federal Transit Administration from using any funds to enforce the Charter Bus Rule against King County Metro Transit. Under the charter rule, public transit agencies are not allowed to use federally funded buses to operate charters if a private carrier is available and capable of performing the work.

After the June 9 decision by Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, the FTA was told to administer the Charter Service Rule in King County, thereby opening transit service to private charter bus companies. But after some internal deliberations, the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTA filed a request for a stay while the case was appealed. The United Motorcoach Association made oral arguments against the stay through attorney Dan Mastromarco, and the stay was denied.

Within hours, the DOJ filed an appeal with the appellate court challenging the lower court's decision denying the stay. The government argued that the Court enter an immediate administrative stay of the district court's order, pending the Court's resolution of this motion. The appellate court granted an administrative stay Tuesday that lasts until July 8 which allows attorneys adequate time to prepare arguments.

King County Metro had stated publicly that its bus service contract with the Seattle Mariners would cease by June 30 if no stay was entered.

"Certainly we are disappointed in the Court's decision for a brief administrative stay," said Victor Parra, president and CEO of UMA. "However, we are confident our arguments are sound and the lower court's decision will prevail."

Meanwhile, in a statement released in response to the lower court's ruling, Murray vowed to keep fighting against measures that "force local fans and event goers to use overpriced and inefficient private charter buses." She said her amendment to the appropriations act was drafted in response to fans' complaints about private charter operators.

"It's clear the government is overreaching here," said Ken Presley, vice president of industry relations for UMA. "It is imperative that our members know the position of their Congressional and Senate representatives, make their wishes known, and vote accordingly. Senator Murray did not pass this legislation alone."

In the original ruling that found the Murray Amendment unconstitutional, Judge Huvelle held that it violates both the First Amendment right to petition the government and the Fifth Amendment Equal Protection Clause. The court rejected the government’s argument that the Murray Amendment was a valid economic regulation and ordered the FTA to enforce the charter rule against King County Metro immediately.


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