Court Upholds Expiration of MTA/BRU Consent Decree

5_6_09_bus.jpgPhoto: LA Wad/Flickr

Yesterday, a federal appeals court ruled in the case of the Bus Rider’s Union (BRU) v. MTA over the matter of whether or not to extend the 1996 "Consent Decree."  At issue was whether or not Metro was in "substantial compliance" with the standards set out in the decree: i.e. whether Metro had expanded bus service, held down fares, and reduced overcrowding in poorer areas of the city where people were reliant on transit and service was sub-par. 

In a split decision, the court ruled that Metro did sufficient work to meet the Decree’s goals and that the decree has expired.  The ruling was carefully written not to say that Metro did a bang-up job of meeting all of its targets, but that the BRU couldn’t prove that Metro was grossly negligent.

[10] We hold that BRU has failed to demonstrate that the district court abused its discretion in finding that MTA had substantially complied with the consent decree. The evidence presented supported the district court’s finding that the imperfections with respect to load factor targets were de minimis in LABOR/COMMUNITY v. L.A. COUNTY MTA 5221 relation to the overall scheme of things. Because the first prong of the Rufo test fails, we hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to extend the decree.

Basically, the court is stating that the MTA wasn’t in full compliance, but that they were close enough.  While I’m certain that Metro is happy with the decision both because they don’t have to negotiate plans with the BRU and because it means that the agency has done a better job of serving its most vulnerable users.  It is doubtful the BRU will view the ruling in the same light.

Just like any court challenge, this one isn’t over until all appeals are exhausted, and because there was some dissent on the judicial challenge, an appeal is likely to be heard.

If you’re interested in reading through the entire decision, it can be found here.

  • Well, looking over the ruling it seems to make the best of a cluttered situation. The BRU from the start has been pushing every provision to the max and often been unwilling to back away from demands that seem to be beyond anything the decree mandated. Tellingly the Special Master before resigning rebuffed the BRU’s attempt to push their freeway bus plan as part of the new service provision. The court finally accepted the Metro suggestion to have implementation of Metro Rapid fulfill that–BRU stalling is why the Court is overseeing the Rapid rollout through 2010 as the one part of the decree still being implemented.

    Judge Berzon in his dissent put heavy weigh on the Special Master’s expertise and severely critizes Judge Hatter’s ruling to not extend the decree. Well, I think Hatter while perhaps not as involved as Bliss (the Master) certainly was kept appraised. The Special Master in his last rulings showed signs of becoming aggrivated at the BRU’s intransigence. And I think that informed Hatter’s comments of the decree being “a less than perfect document. As a result, it is impossible to achieve absolute compliance” in ruling Metro had substantially complied with it.

    Berzon also essentially takes at face value that non-compliance with the load factor requirement is a fault of Metro. I have been of the opinion it is a sign the decree was impractical, an agreement crafted by three groups (Metro Board members, the BRU leadership and the BRU’s lawyers) with no real understanding of the practical aspects of bus operations on surface streets in an urban environment.

    We may never know the full story behind the decree’s creation. We know then L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, who evidently played a key role in the Metro Board voting for it, has since been quoted as saying “entering into the consent decree was a mistake.” I have long suspected the Board was given incomplete or misleading information. I can’t provide anything but speculation as to how or why that happened, and 10+ years later don’t see any value in saying anything further on that topic.

    The consent decree made Eric Mann–by being a named plantiff it provided credibility in the mainstream and probably opened a lot of doors for funding. But by using the decree to beat up on Metro relentless Mann has guaranteed his reputation will proceed him in any dealings with public entities whatever issue he is involved with henceforth, and nobody will sign an agreement with him again. Mann could have leveraged the decree to do things to benefit riders long after the decree expired. He selfishly instead sought short term attention at the expense of longterm viability. Cameras hardly turn up any more for BRU protests, and their full court press at the last fare hearing resulted in zero of what they asked for and didn’t stop the increase. If Metro revisits the possibility of service cuts in the next year due to the budget shortfall any BRU effort to stop it will likely also be more aimed at public attention than effectiveness. The high point is past and they are on the downward slide.

    I’ll be curious if they have any luck with further appeals.

  • Erik

    Ironic that Streetsblog chose to picture a very-old bus (#1447, a high-floor RTS) that is old enough to have been once operating in SCRTD colors, though I am not actually certain that it did.

  • I tried to find one from the Consent-Decree era, but since I wasn’t here at the time it was just guesswork…I end up using so many pictures of buses on a monthly basis that I try to mix it up a little.

  • Erik

    From the Flickr page

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/23630476@N06/2745754775

    whence Damien “borrowed” the photo:

    1992 TMC RTS runs on eastbound Line 20 along Wilshire Boulevard in the Koreatown/Wilshire Center neighborhood of Los Angeles.

    This is in front of the Wiltern Theatre, and across the street from the Wilshire/Western Purple Line station.

    The 1200-1502 series of Metro’s RTSs have seen so much. They originally arrived with methanol engines, but the fuel was eating the motors’ metal. They then briefly ran with ethanol engines, but those proved to be even less reliable than when methanol-powered. Finally, they are no powered by diesel.

    Interestingly, I remember riding this very bus, 1447, a long time ago when it was on Line 447!

  • These are by far the oldest buses in the Metro fleet (now that the dinosuar shorter buses that ran for decades on the 201 and a few other lines with sharp turns have been retired in the past year or so). FTA guidelines allow formula federal capital funds (with local match) to be used for bus replacement after 12 years. But these workhorses are being kept in service for now for several reasons:

    they are very durable and for despite having undergone heavy use for many years are actually in fairly good shape

    they run on diesel, the only fuel Division 6 (Venice) has. That is why these vehicles (and the diesel low floor 3000s) at this point are mostly exclusive to D6.

    Because of air pollution reduction mandates that will eventually (or soon) ban diesel buses, Metro wants to get gasoline* hybrids to run from D6 (a strategically located facility for operating service along heavy westside lines) and is testing them, but the acquisition cost so far is causing sticker shock–they hope in a few years as the technology matures they’ll become affordable

    BTW, some CNG equipment now runs out of D6–it is fuelled at the Big Blue Bus yard in Santa Monica** (mostly while deadheading at the close of service–D6 doesn’t operate late or weekends due to complaints from nearby neighborhoods about noise). This may happen for a while as an interim measure to keep D6 going until the hybrids are acquired.

    *While the ARB/AQMD crowd are anti-diesel zealots they have classified gasoline as an alternative fuel

    **As a observer of the often convoluted relationship between Metro and the munis, I have to think the negoiations for this arrangement would have been fascinating to witness.

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