D.C. Court of Appeals Rules OK For Public Trans To Private Events

Posted on July 5, 2011

King County Metro has been providing bus service to Seattle Mariners games in the late 1990s.
King County Metro has been providing bus service to Seattle Mariners games in the late 1990s.

SEATTLE — The Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on June 14 overturned a 2009 ruling that stopped public bus service to Seattle sporting and community events.  

The original ruling resulted from the Federal Transit Administration’s decision that taxpayer money could not be used for public transit to private events, which caused the King County Metro Transit to cease offering services to Seattle Mariners and Seahawks games.

The Charter Rule in the Federal Transit Act states that if a public transportation system receives federal funding, it must not "provide charter bus transportation service outside the urban area in which it provides regularly scheduled public transportation service."

However, Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., sponsored an amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010 to allow the King County Metro service to resume. The American Bus Association and United Motor Coach Association challenged the Murray Amendment in Washington's district court. The associations claimed that "by singling out private charter bus operators in King County as the only such operators that cannot enforce the Charter Rule against a competitor (King County Metro), the Murray Amendment violates those operators' First Amendment right to petition and Fifth Amendment right to equal protection."

The district court found the Murray Amendment to be unconstitutional, but the Court of Appeals reversed that ruling, finding that Murray’s legislation was constitutional and that “efforts to provide efficient and affordable transportation to sporting events aligned with legitimate governmental goals,” Murray’s office said in a news release.

This decision has upset private shuttle operators, including Seattle’s Starline Transportation, because of unfair competition with taxpayer-subsidized public companies. Starline and the ABA were not available for comment to LCT Magazine. It is still up to teams and event-holders to decide if they wish to contract with Metro or not.

“This year, Metro shuttles will operate for Seafair, Seahawks, Sounders and Husky football. The Mariners opted not to contract for special service this year,” Metro spokeswoman Linda Thielke said.

Sources: Seattle Times; Courthouse News Service; Michael Campos, LCT assistant editor.

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