Remember when Senator Patty Murray passed an amendment that let King County Metro provide its popular Mariners bus service? Bad news. The Seattle PI reports that her amendment was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in DC yesterday after private charter bus operators sued.
“Right now, we are not sure just how the recent federal judge’s ruling will affect the Metro to the Mariners Special Service,” Rebecca Hale of the Mariners said. “We hope to know within a few days whether the service will be canceled. When we receive that notification, we will post it on our website and will reach out to our fans with that information.”
The opinion says that Murray’s amendment violated the First and Fifth Amendments. Wait, the First Amendment right to free speech? Says the opinion: Murray’s amendment “prevents the FTA from spending money to review, investigate, or hear complaints against [Metro],” and this “this constitutes a significant burden on [private charter bus operators’] First Amendment right to petition.”
Fifth Amendment rights were violated because Murray’s amendment protected only King County Metro and no other public transit operators in the country, the opinion says. The Fifth Amendment provides due process protections and requires equal protection under the law — equal protection that means “similarly situated” entities should be treated equally under the law. Murray’s amendment gave no remedy for private bus operators who could provide even lower-cost service than Metro, which could undermine the cost claim that she argued with in her press release, says the court:
For instance, it seems plausible that expanding the grounds for exemptions to the Charter Rule where private charter service has been shown to be inadequate or too costly would have an effect similar to, if not greater than the Murray Amendment with respect to the problems identified by defendants, without burdening plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. Moreover, the Amendment itself merely states that the FTA may not use funds to investigate possible Charter Rule violations by one publicly-subsidized entity, not that this entity is required to provide lower prices and more convenient service for the public.
Murray’s amendment curtailed a Bush-era policy that forbade public transit agencies from providing charter service when any private charter operator was willing to take up the task, regardless of the cost difference to sports fans. An improvement to this regulation could be to waive the requirement when a private charter is uncompetitive, and that would take new legislation. In either case, Metro’s service was fully funded by the Mariners and didn’t require taxpayer subsidies, a spokeswoman told the PI.
The suit was launched against the Federal Transit Administration, it’s unknown if the government will appeal the decision.