Victory for Clean Air and Public Transit in SF Bay Area
U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson today declared that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), with the cooperation of the Bay Area's six major transit operators, must increase Bay Area public transit use by 15 percent above 1983 levels.
The Court found that MTC is not in compliance with TCM 2, a transportation control measure designed to increase ridership on public transit and help clean the region's air. MTC admitted it adopted a 15 percent ridership increase target, but denied responsibility for actually reaching it, an argument the court called "disingenuous." The Court "rejects Defendants' argument that TCM 2 requires only adoption of the target but not the target's achievement."
This ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought against MTC in February of this year by Bayview Hunters Point Advocates, Communities for a Better Environment, Latino Issues Forum, Our Children's Earth Foundation, the Sierra Club, the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, and Urban Habitat Program. The lawsuit claimed that MTC never implemented a "transportation control measure" -- known as TCM 2 -- to increase transit use by making improvements to transit service and reliability. The transit operators were required to prepare plans to attract the additional riders. The groups sued MUNI and AC Transit. While AC Transit promptly settled, and has already completed a draft plan, MUNI refused.
"We know how to clean up the Bay Area's air, and that is to offer clean, reliable transit alternatives so people can get out of their vehicles. Now the court has ordered MTC to make good on its commitment to improving and increasing transit use in the region," said Earthjustice attorney Deborah Reames, representing the coalition in court Tuesday.
Richard Drury, Legal Director for Communities for a Better Environment said, "Thanks to today's order, the Bay Area will finally get serious about making public transportation a vehicle for cleaner air."
Motor vehicle emissions account for about one half of the region's ozone (or smog). Transportation control measures, required by the federal Clean Air Act, are an essential part of the Bay Area's ozone pollution control strategy. Ozone can cause permanent lung damage, wheezing, respiratory disease, and greatly exacerbate asthma attacks. The Bay Area has exceeded federal health-based standards for ozone pollution in 29 of the past 30 years.
"Expanding and improving MUNI and AC Transit service are the cheapest way of quickly getting people into transit, by offering better alternatives to driving, pollution and congestion," said John Holtzclaw, Chair, Sierra Club Transportation Committee.
"MTC always puts new highways first and transit last. It's even forced certain operators to raise fares and cut back service," said Olin Webb with Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates. "When transit service is cut back, so is access to jobs, schools, and essential services for the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and folks without cars."
"MTC encourages sprawl development, with more and more driving every year and even more congestion. We want to stop them from ruining the Bay Area," said David Schonbrunn, President, Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund.
Tiffany Schauer, founder of Our Children's Earth said, "The Clean Air Act provides for public oversight. Without citizen oversight by public interest groups the law will not be enforced and we will not have clean air."
In order to reduce ozone pollution levels, MTC committed in 1982 to increasing the number of people using transit in the Bay Area by 15 percent. Nearly twenty years later, despite a 30 percent increase in population, the number of transit riders today remains close to 1982 levels. The Court ruled that "[W]hile MTC bears the greatest responsibility in ensuring that the region achieves the target increase, the region's six major transit operators also share collective responsibility under TCM 2." Judge Henderson referred the parties to a magistrate-conducted settlement conference to determine implementation of the court order.
"Having access to clean, reliable transit can make a huge difference for a community, especially for Latinos in the Bay Area who rely on these services for getting to work and school," said Enrique Gallardo, Project Manager for Latino Issues Forum.
After thirty years of failure by MTC and other local agencies to clean the region's air, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September disapproved the Bay Area's most recent plan for improving air quality, in response to a suit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the same client coalition. As a result, the region is prohibited from adding any new highway projects to current transportation plans, and local agencies, including MTC, are scrambling to submit an approvable plan to EPA. If the agencies do not have an EPA-approved plan in place by April 22, 2002, the Bay Area will lose all of its federal highway funds. Any projects designed to increase transit ridership will receive funding.
Deborah Reames, Earthjustice, 415-627-6700
Richard Drury, CBE, 510-302-0430 x201
Olin Webb, Bayview Community Advocates 415-671-2862
Enrique Gallardo, Latino Issues Forum, 415-284-7226
David Schonbrunn, TRANSDEF, 415-380-8600<