Tuesday, September 4, 2001
Ninth Circuit Upholds Order That MTA Purchase More Buses
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A special master’s order directing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to buy 248 more buses was upheld Friday by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Two of the panel’s three judges said the master, and U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter, who upheld the master, had the authority under a consent decree to direct the troubled transit agency on how to spend its money.
The ruling is a victory for the Bus Riders Union, a coalition of bus users and public interest groups who sued the MTA five years ago for what members said was discrimination against the low-income and primarily ethnic minority passengers who rely on buses in favor of more costly, and more elite, rail systems.
“I think this is tremendous,” Bus Riders Union organizer Manuel Criollo said. “We definitely want to ask this [MTA] board to go forward with the news buses.”
The MTA and the riders union entered into a consent decree in October 1996, fending off a trial in the riders’ civil rights suit and committing the transit agency to reduce overcrowding on its buses and wait time at bus stops.
Washington attorney Donald T. Bliss was appointed special master with power to review expenditures and transit policy decisions. But the agency and the riders disagreed sharply over the extent of the master’s power after Bliss instructed the MTA to purchase more buses, and after Hatter upheld the order.
The agency attorneys said the courts lacked the ability and the authority to run a complex transit system. But Hatter said the master and Hatter were well within their discretion to interpret the consent decree as empowering them to direct the growth of the bus fleet. The decree did not simply require the MTA to use its best efforts to meet passenger “load factor” targets, but to actually meet them, Judge Barry G. Silverman wrote.
Silverman was joined by Judge James R. Browning.
In dissent, Judge Cynthia Holcomb Hall called the order to purchase buses “unnecessarily intrusive.”
“[U]nlike MTA, federal courts are not in the business of running and funding local transportation systems,” Hall wrote. “For this reason, a substantial measure of deference to the local government agency is appropriate.”
Hall agreed that the MTA’s proposal to ease overcrowding was inadequate, but she said that did not relieve Hatter from the obligation to “craft a remedy that is no more intrusive than necessary.”
Shirley Hufstedler of Morrison & Foerster, who argued the case for the MTA, said neither the majority nor Hall addressed many of the most important points raised in the case. Both sides delved into the judicial concept of federalism, she said, but neither sufficiently considered what she said was the MTA’s financial inability to comply with the order.
Hustedler, a former Ninth Circuit judge who left the bench to serve as Jimmy Carter’s secretary of education, said no decision on whether to seek rehearing en banc could be made until the MTA board takes up the issue.
The board has changed substantially since the decree was entered. With this year’s mayoral election in the city of Los Angeles, Mayor James Hahn now controls four votes on the 14-member board.
Hahn issued a statement yesterday calling on the board to “end the legal process” on the consent decree.
“The people of Los Angeles deserve quality, reliable bus service,” Hahn said in a statement. “As a member of the MTA board, I will continue to urge my colleagues to end the legal process and start working to meet our goal of improving and increasing bus service.”
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company