VICTORY: Bus Groups Win Charter Rule Case

LCT Staff
Posted on June 16, 2010

An amendment by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, that favored public transit over more efficient charter bus providers was found unconstitutional.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. —The AMERICAN BUS ASSOCIATION (ABA) and the UNITED MOTORCOACH ASSOCIATION (UMA) won cases against the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to have the Murray Amendment ruled unconstitutional. Each association brought a separate case to the court, which heard them together and issued a single opinion.

The amendment placed by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in last year’s Department of Transportation appropriations bill prohibits the FTA from enforcing 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.

Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia ruled on June 9 that the Murray Amendment, which prohibits the Federal Transit Administration from using any funds to enforce the charter rules against King County Metro in Seattle, is unconstitutional. The court held that Sen. Patty Murray’s Amendment 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 issued an order requiring the FTA to enforce the charter rule against King County Metro immediately.

ABA is preparing a complaint against King County Metro’s provision of charter service to Seattle Mariners baseball games, Seattle Sounders soccer games, and any other charter work. The complaint will be filed with the FTA in the next several days, and will seek a cease-and-desist order and the withholding of federal funding as the transit agency has knowingly violated the rule for several months.

“I think it’s great that the judge listened to the arguments and the case that was brought by ABA and UMA,” said Peter Pantuso, ABA’s president and CEO. “We had some very good arguments for why this amendment was inappropriate. You can’t be singling out for the benefit of one entity to be able to basically break the rules that were agreed to by both the private bus industry and the public transportation industry as part of the negotiated rulemaking years ago.”

Richard Schweitzer, general counsel to the ABA, explained, “The Murray amendment treated the private operators in Seattle differently than private operators throughout the country.”

Schweitzer also noted that across the U.S., every private bus operator has the opportunity to challenge charter bus service provided by a transit agency. The Murray amendment took that right away from private charter operators in the Seattle market, making it unconstitutional.

“We also claimed that it violated the separation of powers inherent in the Constitution, because, in essence, Congress was pre-judging all of these charter complaints and saying that the FTA couldn’t enforce the Charter Rule against King County Metro in Seattle,” Schweitzer added.

UMA strongly believed the senator’s amendment to be harmful public policy and joined forces with the American Bus Association (ABA) in February to have the amendment overturned. UMA notes that prior to filing the lawsuit, it first took a number of steps to dissuade Murray from continuing her course of action.

“This is truly exciting news,” said Victor Parra, UMA president and CEO. “While we only turn to lawsuits as a last recourse, in this case, we felt compelled to pull out all stops to protect the interests of our members. This is a huge victory for the industry.”

In the ruling, the judge also upheld UMA’s contentions that the Senator’s amendment violated their member, Starline Luxury Coaches’, First and Fifth Amendment rights and specifically noted UMA’s recent request for a cease-and-desist order against King County Metro Transit.

“Having the judge uniquely cite that UMA has spent the past several years participating firsthand in the Charter Rule enforcement process on behalf of Starline is very satisfying,” added Ken Presley, UMA’s vice president of industry relations.

— Nicole Schlosser, LCT Magazine

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