MARTA'S Service Cuts Could Spell Doom for Many
by Dr. Robert D. Bullard
January 1, 2002, Atlanta, GA - Hundreds of transit riders packed the Atlanta City Hall chamber a little over a week ago to voice their opposition to MARTA's latest budget crisis "fix." Speaker after speaker expressed outrage over MARTA's plan to cut service. The most gripping testimony came from low-income, transit dependent, disabled, and elderly MARTA customers who view MARTA as a necessity, not a luxury. Several elected officials even questioned MARTA sensitivity and sincerity. "How do we know we can believe MARTA today when they told us something different a year ago," stated Senator Vincent Fort, speaking at the public hearing.
It was exactly one year ago (January 1, 2001) that MARTA raised its one-way cash fare from $1.50 to $1.75, a whopping 17 percent increase. MARTA officials assured Fulton and DeKalb residents that the fare increase would solve the agency's budget woes. The fare increase went into effect at the same time MARTA opened two sparkling new train stations (Sandy Spring and North Springs) in the northern suburbs. A year later, MARTA officials now say they have a $20 million shortfall. Each year, MARTA keeps coming back with proposals for fare hikes and harmful service cuts.
The fare increase sparked protests and prompted a coalition of civil rights, environmental, disabled, and labor groups to file a discrimination complaint with the Federal Transit Administration. The administrative complaint is currently under investigation by the FTA. This past November, a group of disabled citizens filed a lawsuit against MARTA for non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA. The budget cuts would likely worsen an already bad situation for disabled MARTA riders.
In response to this $20 million deficit, nearly 100 MARTA bus routes throughout Atlanta, DeKalb and Fulton counties will be eliminated or reduced. The cuts include eliminating 36 routes, eliminating weekend service on 26 routes, reducing weekend service on 35 routes, reducing frequency of trains, and reducing the transcard discounts for students and bulk purchases.
For thousands of low-income, minority, disabled, elderly, and transit dependent Atlantans, MARTA is their only transportation. Service cuts could mean a death sentence, home confinement, job loss, and social isolation. MARTA should be developing strategies and plans for improving and expanding (rather than cutting back) services for the Fulton and DeKalb residents who foot the bills.
It is ironic that MARTA is expanding services into the suburbs and outside of Fulton and DeKalb at the same time that it is proposing cutting back services to its core riders. Only Fulton and DeKalb residents pay the one-cent sales tax to support MARTA. Yet, riders from outside MARTA's taxing district reap the benefits of the three-decade old system. There is talk of running express buses all the way to Macon. Similarly, MARTA (through service contracts) is assisting Gwinnett and Clayton counties enter the transit field. Gwinnett and Clayton counties recently started bus systems, even in the sluggish Metro Atlanta economy. It is also ironic that these two suburban counties opted out of MARTA three decades ago, yet Gwinnett and Clayton counties have representatives that serve on MARTA's board who voted a year ago for the fair increase and voted this month for the service cuts that negatively impact Atlanta, Fulton, and DeKalb residents.
Clearly, MARTA needs state funding. This problem is not foreign to state transportation officials. The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) executive director serves on the MARTA board. GRTA has the power and mandate to bring some sense to the region's chaotic public transit situation. GRTA and the state need to act. GRTA has facilitated suburban Gwinnett and Clayton counties bus systems to come on line at the same time MARTA, the region's most mature and far-reaching system, has been allowed to falter. "Metro Atlanta needs a healthy MARTA. State support for MARTA is not a ‘bailout.' It is the right thing to do after Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb residents have singularly shouldered regional transit for more than three decades," stated Clark Atlanta University professor Robert Bullard. Bullard and his colleagues at the Environmental Justice Resource Center (EJRC) spearheaded the Atlanta Transportation Equity Project (ATEP) to bring these types of research and policy issues into the public discourse.
Fulton and DeKalb residents have carried the regional transportation burden long enough. It is time for the state to kick in funds to support regional transit. Georgia is one of 10 states that fail to provide state support for urban transit operations. Without state assistance in planning and funding a regional transit system (one that is seamless, linked, coordinated, and with a uniform fare structure), Fulton and DeKalb taxpayers will likely see an annual repeat of this shortsighted band-aid approach to transit planning.
For more information on MARTA and transportation equity in the Metro Atlanta region, see http://www.ejrc.cau.edu/martaequityissues.htm.
Photo Essay - Public Hearing Held at Atlanta City Hall
A parade of Atlantans sign in to testify at the December 20 public hearing held in the Atlanta City Council chamber. Each individual was given up to five minutes to speak.
Only a handful of MARTA board members showed up to hear public comments. The MARTA board is set to make a final decision on January 28.
Hundreds of citizens packed the City Council chamber. An irate over-flow crowd spilled over into the atrium.
Unable to enter the packed hearing room, elderly and disabled MARTA riders watch the public hearing on closed-circuit television. Many fear the proposed cuts would hit elderly and disabled riders especially hard.
MARTA riders made their point loud and clear, "better service, not service cuts."
Senator Vincent Fort confers with local citizens and offers some strong views against the proposed service cuts.
EJRC staffers Angel O. Torres and Glenn S. Johnson examine MARTA's displays and graphs.
Citizen opposition appears to be strongest against the bus service cuts rather than cuts in train service. MARTA plans to run trains every 10 minutes instead of every eight minutes.