Federal judge puts Metro's baseball shuttles in jeopardy
A special King County Metro Transit bus service to Seattle Mariners games is in jeopardy, after a judge's ruling went against the program.
Seattle Times transportation reporters
A special King County Metro Transit bus service to Seattle Mariners games is in jeopardy, after a federal judge's ruling went against the program.
It's not clear yet whether Metro service will be cut by June 18, when the next homestand begins.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has yet to decide what happens next with the Metro shuttle service. Metro spokeswoman Linda Thielke said Thursday afternoon that the agency is waiting for FTA direction. Mariners spokeswoman Rebecca Hale said the outcome is out of the ballclub's hands, and it seemed likely the service would end.
It's the latest chapter in an ongoing dispute between taxpayer-funded Metro and the private motor-coach industry, in particular Starline Luxury Coaches in Seattle. According to federal rules, public-transit operators are not to use their government-subsidized buses to provide charter service, when private firms can do so.
But a recent amendment by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., carved out an exemption for King County Metro — one of the nation's top 10 busiest public-transit providers — with a goal of reducing costs to Seattle sports fans. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., declared the Murray amendment unconstitutional Wednesday.
Gladys Gillis, head of Starline Luxury Coaches, who was on the rules committee for the new FTA law, was cheered by the judge's ruling.
"That's a great thing to create jobs in this region," said Gillis. "We'll be able to hire drivers, mechanics, purchase new equipment." After Murray's amendment, Gillis said, her company had to lay off 32 people and cancel bus purchases.
She didn't know when the ruling would take effect, but she said Starline is prepared to bid on the Mariners' contract and could offer it for the same price to riders.
Metro's special baseball routes, for $5 cash each way, go to and from the Northgate, South Kirkland, South Bellevue and Eastgate park-and-ride lots for weekend games, and postgame only for weeknight games.
Metro has been serving the ballpark for years, and in a good season, between 1,000 and 2,000 fans per game use the buses, said Hale. Many other fans reach the ballpark on regular scheduled bus routes.
The case was brought by two trade associations representing private charter buses, and it's being closely watched in other U.S. cities, said Dan Mastromarco, an attorney for the charter lines.
When the FTA rules went into effect in 2008, Gillis said, her company was eager to bid on many of the shuttle operations now provided by Metro.
She said, "It's always been illegal for tax-funded agencies to compete with private business, but there's been gray areas. This will give us an opportunity to do the work."
The D.C. court agreed with the charter operators that the Murray amendment violated their First Amendment right to petition the FTA for redress of grievances and their Fifth Amendment right to equal protection under the law.
Metro has been operating private shuttles for about 10 years and under the new rules, if Metro were to violate the new FTA rules it could lose all its FTA funding, costing the agency millions of dollars.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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