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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.

45 Replies to “Court Blocks Metro Mariners Service”

  1. Suprise suprise, Starline is on the board that brought the lawsuit up. Private profit (and greed) before letting the public use the equipment that they paid for in the first place. Shame on them.

    1. Even with Starlines greed, how are they able to match Metro’s level of service and price (paid for by fares and the Seattle Mariners)? That’s not fair to the consumer.

  2. If I had standing, I’d counter-sue on ADA grounds. Are all of Starline’s coaches accessible? No. Whereas Metro has had a completely accessible fleet since the older MAN diseasel atrics retired.

    But with LINK coming now to the pro Stadiums and soon to Husky Stadium, the point is rather moot.

    Why did Murray single out KCMetro in the first place??

    1. I am who thinks Starline’s buses may be inadequate for regular passengers in some of these services. Got to be able to load and unload quickly, and that is even more important for the Hydro Shuttles. Genessee St. is not as wide as Royal Brougham or 1st Ave.

      Plus, from SOUTH KING, Metro was not even operating the shuttles, LINK was good enough.

    2. Is Jessica still around on this blog? I know she’s an east-sider with a wheelchair. It would sure be an interesting court case.

      1. I’m still here – being a Mommy two twin brats is a full time job and I’m just so busy that I haven’t read this blog often.

        What did you need?

  3. I wonder what other cities could be affected. I know that SEPTA offers express service on the Broad Street Line for any major sporting event. It goes directly from Walnut St to Pattison St without stopping in between.

  4. Starline is actively hostile to people asking about accessibility, too. They claim to have an accessible coach, but it’s never available. See, this is how you meet the letter of the ADA without touching the spirit of it.

  5. This is not surprising, nor is it really bad news. The court basically said you can’t give Metro special treatment. If the law says that a public transit provider can’t crowd out a private provider, that’s the law. You can’t have a law that says: it is illegal for any public transit provider anywhere in the nation to crowd out a private provider unless that provider happens to be a King County Metro service Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. If the law is bad (and I think that it is), we should change the law, not carve out a special deal for a single case.

    The court did not say that a private provider has a constitutional right to be free from public competition, only that the law must be applied equally, which is a well established constitutional principle. Rather than fighting this decision, Murray should introduce new, general legislation that passes the equal protection test. This should not be hard to do.

    1. Right on the mark, Tony. That’s my reading of the decision also. Much as we dislike the outcome, the judge got the law correct.

      You kinda have to wonder why Murray singled out Metro alone; perhaps it was a junior-level staffer who actually wrote the text and didn’t run it by the lawyers. The legal principals involved here are really pretty basic.

    2. What is rather ironic is that while the constitution explicitly enjoins “bills of attainder”, it is rather common practice for the Congress to pass “Private Bills” that give benefit to individuals or groups. For example, private bills may declare so and so is a citizen allowing them to have by-passed the arduous immigration and naturalization process. Often, there is a manifest purpose (e.g. subject did a heroic act or service for the country) served by such private bills but often they are about nothing but pork and corruption. If our current strict constructionist court wants to be pissy about it, they could expand this ruling to really hamstring the Congress in the conduct of its business.

  6. Mmmm, I hadn’t heard about the part of the bill which prevents the FTA from spending money to review, investigate, or hear complaints. Not only would a private charter company have reason to challenge the fare structure but a concerned citizen might argue that the compensation received doesn’t truly cover costs. For one it doesn’t cover the cost of depreciation of capital which puts Metro at a distinct advantage over a private charter company. It also seems to be very dubious legal footing to provide explicit protections to Metro and Metro alone. PT doesn’t have the same right to bus people to events at the Tacoma Dome?

    It’s a difficult situation. The Mariners are a private business so scheduling special service could be looked at as using public resources to enrich a private entity. OTOH, the stadium is owned and operated by the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District (not to be confused with the Washington-King County Stadium Authority which owns Quest Field). The Mariners are a tenant and anything that boosts attendance directly contributes increased tax revenue back to King County (and if the team ever turns a profit it might pay back King County before the facility is put on the historic register). All stadiums in the County are publicly owned. Metro Transit is Publicly owned. Essential there is a monopoly on stadiums and public transportation which function hand in hand. There’s no issue with Seattle City Light supplying electricity to the stadiums. Metro is essentially the same in that it’s the public monopoly which supplies public transportation; thereby increasing tax revenue and helping to relieve congestion on our public roads caused by stadium events. PSE can’t say it wants to be able to sell power to the Mariners or else they have to turn off the lights. I think the law needs to establish the monopoly position Metro holds with respect to public transit to public venues and allow (encourage) it’s use.

    1. Bernie,

      every office building, movie theater, retail store and restaurant in downtown Seattle are private businesses, and Metro provides service and enhances the value of those businesses – without the businesses directly contributing anything. Why single out the Mariners?

      The function of transit is to help transport people efficiently where they want to go, with less energy and environmental impact than if they each drove their own private vehicle. Why is attending a sports event different than going shopping or to a restaurant or movie?

      The whole FTA rule should be overturned.

      By the way, it applies to buses only. ST Sounder can run specials, the NY & Boston & Chicago subways can and do provide game service. Just no buses. And this will hurt the UW Huskies more than anyone else. Starline couldn’t provide the service before but ended up raking in a 5% extortion payment for stepping out of way and letting Metro do the work – pure unearned corporate handout.

      (how do I really feel )

      1. The difference is “special service” verses regularly schedule runs. Nobody (not even Starline) is claiming you can’t take regularly scheduled transit to the games (which is actually pretty good). The difference is the Paramount doesn’t get special bus service when they have a concert. Bellevue School District has a similar arrangement with metro as the Mariner shuttle. All high school transportation is provided through contract with Metro. Without a change to the law First Transit (which I think bought out Laidlaw) could claim rights to that contract. I agree it needs to be changed. I think Metro should be considered a monopoly. They, like a utility monopoly have to seek government approval for a rate increase and, like a Monopoly, are the only tax payer supported public transportation alternative in the county. And, like other situations where it makes sense to grant monopoly rights it would make no sense to have competing service for the same area of coverage.

  7. If metro bore the cost to run this service this would be a moot point.

    I will say though that Starline has done a good job of trying to work themselves into this service, and they do desrve some kudo’s for the hard work they are doing. It’s too bad its all going to be in vain. Not only have they had the federal charter rules changed and upheld, but have been trying to have rules governing private use of public transporation facilitys changed as well.

  8. What a disgrace. Sure, the law that Murray got through should expand to allow ALL public agencies provide service. (I was actually under the impression that it was, guess I didn’t get the full story a while back.) There’s nothing preventing private competitors from doing their bit. This is just private enterprise trying to push out the real competitor that we already fund elsewhere and that the Mariners have chosen to go with because it provides a better, reliable, and more well-known service. In other words, private enterprise doesn’t want real competition. Their beef is so petty and infinitesimal. I have no good words to say about this. Shame, shame, shame.

    1. I was wondering, since public funding went into building these stadiums, shouldn’t public transit get first crack at providing the service to them? Also, will Starline go after LINK and SOUNDER services on game-day next? The weekend SOUNDER runs are special service, but perhaps now might be the time to consider some kind of rudimentary weekend regular service, perhaps 1-2 round trips, to provide cover for these specials. Although SOUNDER’s contractor, BNSF, has better resources for the court fight.

      1. Don’t forget that public funding goes into the very same roads they will use and we ALL pay into transit via the sales tax. But that’s just too reasonable! We can’t be doing things that make sense.

        They can’t really go after Link and Sounder as the rule involves a private firm wanting to do something the public firm already does. Amtrak is public, BNSF doesn’t care, so Sounder is the only one who owns the big rails unless someone wants to cobble together some rolling stock. No one else can operate on the Link.

        Imagine if some private firm bitched about NYC’s subway and they couldn’t serve Yankee Stadium on game day. Eeek!

      2. Another reason why Sounder needs to have permanent weekend service now, 14 years after it was created.

  9. I just returned from a business trip to Boulder, CO. While in the Boulder Transit Center checking out the bus schedules, I found a nice, glossy brochure for ‘Rockies Ride’, a special bus service to all weekend Colorado Rockies home games and select weekday games. It features direct bus service from 14 locations in the Denver metro area, including 13 park and rides. It has a different fare structure than regularly scheduled bus service. I’m not sure I understand why this isn’t possible here.


    1. Because no private company has expressed interest in providing bus service to their baseball games. In Seattle, a private company has expressed interest so Metro has to yield to them.

      1. But they’re clearly not providing such a service. At least, I haven’t seen such a service advertised. Or is there a service whose ads I have missed?

      2. Starline did provide this service in 2008 for the Seahawks, but it cost $12.50 each way. That fare is super-high so I believe the Seahawks didn’t renew their contract for 2009. But, regardless of how unreasonable the fare was, the fact that they wanted to offer any service at all meant that Metro couldn’t do so.

        The Huskies got around this problem for a couple seasons by hiring Starline to do the job, but having them contract it out to Metro anyway.

  10. The problem wasn’t Metro crowding out private operators on sports runs. The problem was that Metro wasn’t allowed to serve sports events and private operators weren’t doing it either, so there was no transit to sports events. It’s like how local TV stations can get cable operators to blank out shows because they “may” broadcast the show someday, but then they don’t. I don’t mind giving private operators priority over Metro if they can do it for a reasonable price, but only if they actually provide the transit.

  11. Last night, Thursday June 10, at 9:58, after a Sounder game, I watched a northbound Route 71 with a packed standing load roll past Bay A at Westlake without stopping, bypassing a large crowd of passengers.

    Later that night, another someone familiar with University service told me this: A couple of weeks ago around 10pm after a Sounders game, a northbound Route 72 made its first stop at Bay A International District, and encountered an overload.

    A supervisor ordered the driver to forget fares, load through both doors, and get moving. The bus was still passing up passengers at Fairview.

    My informant considered it unfair that Metro had to forego fares to serve a private profit-making event.

    But much worse than that, young sports-fans bound for the U-District displaced regular passengers living- and working night jobs in- Lake City. On service with a one-hour headway.

    I relate this second-hand. But based on my own observations, I don’t doubt any of it- or that it’s not an isolated occurrence.

    I don’t begrudge Starline its charter service for buses leaving Stadium parking lots. But I hate seeing a multimillion dollar public system running a block from the stadium, with a subway connected to express freeway lanes, collapse under the very loads it was built to serve.

    It seems to me the answer is not to fight Starline over charters, but to insist that our professional sports industry help pay for the extra costs their events impose on public transit. Charters for Starline-okay. Just so the Tunnel gets the necessary extra buses for the passengers Starline can’t handle and Metro must.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Sports teams should pay for additional service or shuttle buses, but it’s not possible to ask them to pay for the extra riders on standard Metro routes. That’s like asking downtown Seattle to pay more for having jobs. Well, the sources that attract many riders do pay more: through fares (with perfect enforcement, even if that wasn’t the example you described) and tax revenues. Clearly there is a rationing problem but that happens with all resources.

      1. I’m certainly not faulting the supervisor’s decision on emergency loading. I’ve seen after-7 fare collection on game nights cause 6 minute dwell-times. The Tunnel was given millions of dollars worth of mezzanine space precisely to remove fare-collection from vehicles. No, it’s not the Sounders’ fault the capacity is being wasted.

        Neither is any single industry to blame for the real transit problem here: except for “peak hours”, our core service is weak to non-existent. One reason for our high operating cost is the amount of our route-mileage devoted to long-distance commuter service for two-hour periods twice a day.

        You’re right: if regular service can’t handle, regular service has to improve.

        However, it’s not unfair to ask a very lucrative industry to pay its share of costs generated by its own business activities. A night janitor, who also pays taxes, can’t get to work because of conditions resulting from an event that brings millions to a corporation. What’s the stuffed-shirt term- “externalizing costs?”

        Funny about rationing and resources, John: there are evidently limitless public resources available for professional sports stadiums hereabouts, but money for schools and transitworkers has to be very carefully rationed.

        Maybe I’m just showing my age, but I liked it better forty years ago when all the obnoxious ideological phraseology came from the left. In America, nobody that talked like that ever got enough money and power to threaten the Republic.


    2. Metro normally passes up stops when the bus is full. This usually happens when another bus is coming a few minutes later, as from UW to downtown at 5pm. There’s not much Metro can do about it because even if they pay an extra half day’s salary for somebody to run an extra bus, the crowd will probably be gone by the time the bus gets there.

      “My informant considered it unfair that Metro had to forego fares to serve a private profit-making event.”

      It happens every day when a full bus gets off at the UW. The driver opens the back door and may or may not ask people to flash their pass from the outside. Some people do, others don’t, and ORCA users can’t tap (without going back in the front door and making everybody else wait for them). Metro also doesn’t charge when the farebox is broken, on snow days, or when the service is otherwise substandard. (Of course, some people might wonder why being ten or thirty minutes late is not substandard…) Fares only account for 25-33% of the average cost of a trip, and if it happens on ten runs out of two thousand, that’s not many.

      Any, Metro is not serving a “private profit-making event”. It’s serving residents who are traveling on a regular bus route.

    3. “unfair that Metro had to forego fares to serve a private profit-making event.”

      “it’s not unfair to ask a very lucrative industry to pay its share of costs generated by its own business activities”

      What about the millions of dollars the state spent installing a freeway ramp directly to the stadiums, and the traffic that everybody has to put up with (except Link riders!) because of the games. The teams should have put up a big chunk of change for those.

    4. The other night I was on an outbound 554 when the Sounders game got out. The bus was almost full by the time we got to 4th and Main, and when we left 5th and Jackson the bus was packed and about 50 people were left at the stop. After 8:30 the 554 only runs hourly, I felt really bad for the regular riders of the 554 who might have been left waiting in the ID another hour for a ride home. They really should at least try to run articulateds on the 554 on game nights, as its the only bus serving Eastgate and Issaquah after 7:30.

  12. I would break it down a little differently.

    In theory, Metro and companies like Starline are now viewed as in competition for charter service. Metro was created to transport all of us everywhere in the county. Fares are subsidized, Coaches purchased with Federal and State funds. Starline has to take out loans, and buy or lease when they have enough profit to allow it.

    IN THEORY, Metro therefore has an unfair advantage. Big time. Number of coaches, drivers, cost of liability insurance, street parking spots… in short, when they jump into private enterprise marketing (charter this bus to take you to this event / game / etc ) there is no way for ANY charter company in the region to compete.

    The IDEA was to allow private companies to bid on this work. In order to handle the huge events, they of COURSE would have to charter coaches from Metro, but the PRIVATE company has to create and oversee the logistics, and in turn might earn a 1 to 2 percent margin for their effort, as well as create work for THEIR own busses and drivers.

    The BIG events… Seahawk, Husky, Mariner games, Bumbershoot, Folklife, Bite, July 4th all have numbers too large for them NOT to offer transportation assistance. Especially for flow, safety and environmental reasons…

    THAT said, however, the issue is tight budgets that have event planners asking why even call the charter companies other than for long over the road hauls, as they cannot handle the numbers, and I will get a better rate calling Metro directly.

    They are right, but in doing so, there enters the slippery slope… “Wow, for that rate, why not charter Metro for all the convention shuttles, and gift shows? Why not hire Metro for the ship transfers, and to head out touring?”…. And there goes the charter business. And there go MY tax dollars to transfer folks from the Private events to private hotels, or private cruises to private hotels, or the Pier to the Airport?

    SO… WHERE do you compromise?

    The Law was sadly written in a more black and white world of absolutes, then pushed on a technicality as compared to the bigger issue.

    We live in a city that owns its own power and water company. The water issue was settled by a vote after the Seattle Fire, but City Light and Puget Sound Power and Light (and Traction!) used to compete head to head for customers as late as the mid fifties.

    The readers here know the difference between a transit coach and a parlor coach. For most of us the issue is simple… Short Haul + lotsa folks = Transit coaches. Sadly, the theories of capitalism and transportation collide, and leave us all waiting for a bus.

  13. The question should be: why do they need a “special service” for transport to what should be an oft used express stop?

    The issue is, as I have proposed recently, that there should be regular, round the clock, express service — bus or train or both — between the central destinations.

    Look, when I go to a Mariners game from Kent, depending on time of day, I can either:

    a) Take the Sounder (20 minutes)
    b) Take the 150 (60 minutes)

    This speaks more to the spotty nature of availabe high speed transit between Kent and Seattle.

    So, what they call a “special bus” should just be an express bus that runs on the normal 150 route, but making limited stops and using the fastest road way possible.

    Or, an increase in Sounder trains so it runs like regular transit link.

    Or both.

    1. There should be, between all urban villages and suburban downtowns. The lack of full-time express and limited-stop service is what keeps people in their cars.

      1. No what keeps people in there cars is freedom. Freedom to leave when you want to go where you want. Everyone wants mass transit but they want someone else to ride it.

      2. ‘Freedom’ to sit in traffic. ‘Freedom’ to pay for parking, gas, maintenance, and insurance. ‘Freedom’ to pollute the air and the water. ‘Freedom’ to pave forests and agricultural land. ‘Freedom’ to send money to countries run by religious fanatics, thieves, and genocidal thugs.

        Yea, that’s a lot of ‘freedom’ there. Frankly I’d find better places to get my talking points than a Chevrolet commercial.

      3. First I don’t like Chevys. Second I do ride the bus and I wish I was in a car. Third what I said is the point of view of a lot of people. I never said it was a right or a wrong point of view. Speaking for myself, taking the bus where I live is good on the week but sucks on the weekend. Why? there are no buses running close to where I love on the weekends. So if I want to go somewhere I have to walk a couple of miles to the nearest bus or beg a friend for a ride. So a car would be a better option for me because I would be freedom. I could actually go places.

        Also my you did not adress my other point, that people want mass transit but want other people to take them.

      4. I would not say that second point is too true. People want to be able to relax while they travel, and do whatever they want rather than focus on the road all the time. Mass transit allows people to do that.

      5. In urban areas, we can provide more freedom to people if we invest in transit, rather than roads. When they want to go to rural areas, they can use a car share or rent a car.

        As for the feeling of wishing you were in a car, that only comes because cars are funded at ridiculous levels, while transit funding is rather low. If we change the funding system, then that feeling will go away.

  14. Has anyone stopped to think that since this a Federal rule that private operators are likely operating effecient, cost-effective and maybe even better service in other cities? For Sen. Murray and others to say that private opeartors are too expensive and do not operate accessible buses is simply NOT TRUE. All for-hire operators must comply with the Americans with Disabilites Act. Publicly funded transits as a rule are publicly funded because their services simply cost more than the fare box takes in. The last numbers available (2008) show King County Metro ONLY recovers 20% of the operations cost through the fare box; the remainder coming from local, state and federal funds. That is after the Federal taxpayer picks up the tab (90%) on the equipment. Seattle taxpayers have many options if they truly want to displace private businesses; but how about this thought. Only a few hundred people actually ride the Mariners parking lot shuttle; yet, thousands will consume beer. Considering the cost of beer these days at Safeco Field, Sen. Murray would be doing all of us a favor by providing a “beer subsidy.” Sound silly? So is this whole argument. We should not as a free society be trying to displace a business from performing their lawful business just because some US Senator banck in Washington, DC thinks her subsidies (hooks) are a good idea. What say you Seattle?

    1. We could restructure metro to get a profit, but the fact is metro’s goal is to provide transit service, not maximize profits for rich people.

      As for the “cheaper” argument. Running metro buses to these games is the best option, seeing that we are using buses that would just sit there otherwise, rather than having to buy a whole new fleet. If private operators are more efficient, they should be able to compete with metro bus service, as service to games pays for itself. What Starline wants is monopoly, not cheaper service.

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