Victory for Public Transit in the San Francisco Bay Area

Court orders MTC to meet ridership goals set in 1982


Brian Smith, Earthjustice, 510-660-6700

In a ruling released today, US District Court Judge Thelton Henderson ordered the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (“MTC”) to ensure that Bay Area regional transit operators increase regional ridership 15 percent above 1983 levels by no later than November 9, 2006. This ruling marks the conclusion of a lawsuit by community and environmental groups against MTC filed in February 2001.

The groups filed suit to force implementation of TCM 2, a transportation control measure adopted 20 years ago by MTC to meet its Clean Air Act obligations. The suit was necessary because transit ridership today is only slightly higher than it was in 1983, despite a 30 percent increase in population.

Last November, Judge Henderson found that MTC is required by law to achieve and maintain the 15 percent ridership increase under the Clean Air Act and that it has failed to do so. In today’s ruling, the Court also “. . . rejected MTC’s arguments that TCM 2 is not linked to public health and that ‘public health is simply not a factor in this case.'”

“I’m glad to see that the court is going to hold MTC’s feet to the fire to improve transit in the Bay Area. We are going to make sure MTC spends the taxpayers’ money wisely by providing reliable transit service in every Bay Area community, especially those neighborhoods who most depend on transit,” said Olin Webb of Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates, lead plaintiff in the case.

This final ruling sets out a remedy for MTC’s failure to comply with the requirements of TCM 2, a measure designed to help clean up the region’s air pollution by shifting people from their cars onto public transit. MTC adopted TCM 2 in 1982, but has consistently denied responsibility for meeting its ridership increase target. Specifically, the Court ordered MTC to:

  • Increase regional transit ridership by 15 percent over 1983 levels by no later than November 9, 2006;

  • Amend the 25-year Regional Transportation Plan and Transportation Improvement Program adopted by MTC last winter “to include a section specifying how it will achieve full implementation of TCM 2;”

  • File quarterly reports with the Court detailing its progress in implementing TCM 2.

In determining these orders were necessary, the Court emphasized that: “Despite MTC’s asserted record of funding transit projects and seeking to improve public transit in the Bay Area…the Court remains unconvinced that MTC is specifically committed to implementing TCM 2.” In addition, because “…MTC has failed to comply with TCM 2 for nearly fifteen years and continues to deny that TCM 2 requires actual achievement of a ridership increase, this Court finds it prudent to regularly monitor MTC’s progress toward full implementation of TCM 2.”

Deborah Reames, the Earthjustice attorney representing the plaintiffs said, “The extent to which MTC fought against implementing its own measure is disturbing. Bay Area commuters deserve fast and reliable transit options to choose from rather than being forced to sit in their cars for hours each day. It’s MTC’s job to provide those options. Complying with this measure by 2006 is not, after all, a particularly impressive goal – in fact, in terms of per capita ridership, our ridership will still be well under 1983 levels.”

“Our children deserve better than to have their lives shortened and their breath taken away by the harmful effects of smog,” said Tiffany Schauer, Executive Director of Our Children’s Earth Foundation. “It’s high time MTC does something to protect them.”

“Latino and African American communities are especially hard-hit by ozone pollution and these neighborhoods bear a disproportionate share of the health burden associated with air pollution,” said Enrique Gallardo, of Latino Issues Forum. “Improving the speed and reliability of transit service in the places it is most needed enables people to leave their cars at home and save money in the process.”

“For decades, MTC has blown phenomenal amounts of money on showpiece transit projects while ignoring stagnant ridership statistics,” said David Schonbrunn of Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund. “We are ecstatic that MTC will finally be required to achieve results.”

AC Transit and San Francisco MUNI were originally named as defendants in this case, but both reached settlements with the plaintiffs. Under these settlements, they have agreed to produce plans that, if funded by MTC, would increase ridership significantly.

“Public transit will finally be given the share of MTC’s discretionary money required to meet its Clean Air Act requirements,” said Richard Drury, attorney for Communities for a Better Environment.

“This decision couldn’t be more timely,” said Reames. “MTC is slated to approve a new 3-year Transportation Improvement Program (“TIP”) on Wednesday that is heavily weighted toward new highway projects.” Judge Henderson warned in his ruling that: “MTC now has a clear sense of its responsibilities under TCM 2, and it would therefore be ill-advised to amend the TIP in any way that would make compliance unlikely.”

Recently, MTC’s own studies reveal a public preference for improved transit in the Bay Area. As part of its extensive San Francisco Bay Crossings Study, MTC surveyed Bay Area residents regarding six transportation alternatives under consideration. When asked if they supported or opposed each alternative, survey respondents supported every transit alternative over every roadway alternative.

This ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought against MTC in February 2001 by Bayview Hunters Point Community 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.


Transportation control measures, required by the federal Clean Air Act, are an essential part of the Bay Area’s ozone pollution control strategy. Motor vehicle emissions account for about one half of the region’s ozone (or smog). The Bay Area has exceeded federal health-based standards for ozone pollution in 29 of the past 30 years, and missed four federal deadlines for attaining those standards. This year, the Bay Area has already exceeded the federal standard twice.

Bay Area community and environmental groups went to court in February 2001 to force MTC to obey the law after two decades of non-compliance with transportation control (TCM) measures mandated under the Clean Air Act. Below is the history of failures by MTC and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to bring the Bay Area into compliance with the public health standard for ozone set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

MTC Promises Made/Deadlines Missed

1970 – Congress enacted Clean Air Act, which ensured that smog in major metropolitan areas would be cleaned up by 1975.

1982 – MTC developed ten transportation control measures (“TCMs”) to reduce smog pollution formally adopted in the Bay Area Air Quality Plan and slated for full implementation by 1987. Among these is TCM 2, which required an increase in regional public transit ridership of 15 percent between 1983 and 1987. Ridership in 1983 was 503 million annual boardings.

1987 – Ridership in the Bay Area plummeted to 450 million annual boardings, with AC Transit and San Francisco MUNI bearing the burden of this drop.

1993 – Ridership level was 471 million annual boardings. MTC attempted to delete TCM 2 from its

1993 Ozone Attainment Plan. EPA does not act on this plan, instead approving the 1994 Maintenance Plan, which retains TCM 2.

1998 – EPA and the Air District formally protested MTC’s failure to implement TCM 2. Both agencies say MTC could be doing much more to provide Bay Area residents with better transit options.

1999 – With ridership at 482 million annual boardings, far below its 1983 level, MTC proposes to delete TCM 2 from the 1999 Ozone Attainment Plan. EPA writes in an April 29, 1999 letter to MTC that TCM 2 “clearly [has] emissions reductions in the SIP. Since no new measures have been proposed to provide the ‘equivalent or greater emissions reductions,’ EPA cannot approve removal of these measures.”

November 15, 2000 – The Bay Area blows another deadline for attaining the national standards for smog

February, 2001 – The Bayview Hunters Point Coalition Files Suit to Force MTC to Implement TCM 2

August 28, 2001 – EPA disapproves the Bay Area’s 1999 Attainment Plan

November 9, 2001 – Federal Judge Thelton Henderson finds that the Clean Air Act mandates MTC to continue to implement TCM 2 and that it has failed to ever do so

February 2001 — MTC adopts its 2001 25-year Regional Transportation Plan for the Bay Area, which allocates the majority of MTC’s discretionary funding to highway projects. MTC itself projects that implementation of that Plan will stick Bay Area residents with a 50 percent increase in car traffic – more than twice the projected population increase. Most of what it does for transit is focused on big, splashy, expensive and long-term projects.


Olin Webb, Bayview Community Advocates, (415) 671-2862

Deborah Reames, Earthjustice, 510-550-6776

Richard Drury, CBE, (510) 302-0430 ext. 201

Enrique Gallardo, LIF, (415) 547-7550

Tiffany Schauer, OCE, (415) 934-9600

David Schonbrunn, TRANSDEF, (415) 380-8600

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