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No Bias in Budget Favors for Trains Over Buses

(CN) - A class action accusing the San Francisco Bay Area's transportation planning commission of discriminating against minorities by emphasizing rail projects over bus lines is based on a "logical fallacy" and smacks of desperation, the 9th Circuit ruled.

The federal appeals panel in San Francisco affirmed a lower court's ruling in favor of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, finding that the class of minority transit riders, the advocacy group Communities for a Better Environment, and the Amalgamated Transit Union No. 192 had failed to show that they were treated differently than nonminority riders.

In a separate concurring opinion to the panel's unanimous decision published Wednesday, Jude John Noonan went so far as to state that the kind of endemic, institutional racism suspected by the plaintiffs no longer exists in the famously liberal Bay Area.

"The twentieth century racial categories so confidently deployed no longer correspond to American life among the young," Noonan wrote in a concurrence Wednesday. "What is true of the young is already characteristic of the Bay Area where social change has been fostered by liberal political attitudes, and a culture of tolerance. An individual bigot may be found, perhaps even a pocket of racists. The notion of a Bay Area board bent on racist goals is a specter that only desperate litigation could entertain."

The plaintiffs sued the commission in 2005, alleging that its multibillion-dollar, long-range plans for bay-area transit projects favored white riders over minorities by concentrating on rail projects over bus lines. They claimed that Bay Area rail service had historically been used by whites, and buses by minorities. The plaintiffs also argued that they had lost job opportunities and were forced to cut expenses because the commission had neglected the city's bus service while at the same time raising fares.

Finding that the class had failed to prove intentional discrimination, the District Court granted summary judgment to the commission, but allowed the plaintiffs' disparate impact claims to go to trial. The lower court, after a trial, found that while the plaintiffs had shown that the commission's allocation of funding to rail projects could be construed as discriminatory, the commission had successfully countered with a legitimate justification for its plans.

On appeal, the three-judge appeals panel affirmed the District Court, but rejected its finding that the plaintiffs had demonstrated intentional discrimination by the commission.

"The statistical measure upon which plaintiffs relied to establish a prima facie case is unsound, and their claim rests upon a logical fallacy," the majority opinion, authored by Judge Barry Silverman, states. "Although plaintiffs' statistical evidence shows that minorities make up a greater percentage of the regional population of bus riders than rail riders, it does not necessarily follow that an expansion plan that emphasizes rail projects over bus projects will harm minorities. Plaintiffs' theory forecloses altogether the possibility that [the commission] could devise any rail-centered expansion that could benefit minority transit riders, while the evidence shows that Bay Area minorities already benefit substantially from rail service. Without a more precise statistical measure of how the particular projects included in the [long-range plans] will serve the Bay Area's transit ridership, no court could possibly determine whether [the commission's] long-term expansion plan will help or harm the region's minority transit riders." (Emphasis in original.)

Commission Chairman Scott Haggerty lauded the panel's ruling in a statement released Wednesday.

"We are pleased with this victory and happy that after nearly six years of litigation we can finally put this matter behind us," Haggerty said. "MTC has been forced to spend millions of scarce public dollars defending itself from a misguided lawsuit at a time when there is an urgent need to stabilize and improve all Bay Area transit systems."

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