Activists Defeat Paratransit Fare Changes for MARTA

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(APN) ATLANTA — MARTA’s Board of Directors voted Monday to preserve the Paratransit Fare Structure for fiscal year 2008, ending a standoff between the Board and the disabled community over a proposed alteration to the Paratransit Fare Structure.

Disabled riders can currently purchase a Paratransit monthly pass for $105, twice the amount other MARTA riders pay, and have unlimited one-way rides for that month.

However, the Board previously proposed a change in fare structure that would still let disabled riders purchase a Paratransit monthly pass at $105, but limit the holder of such a pass to only 50 one-way rides.

Disabled riders and concerned citizens delivered scathing public comments during the April and May MARTA Board meetings, showing their disgust for the proposed 50 one-way rides limit.

Paratransit riders said they often needed to make more than 50 one-way trips per month.

Riders and activists also pointed out that other MARTA riders would continue to have unlimited rides under the proposed policy, charging that MARTA would thus be discriminating against disabled people.

The Board voted twice to delay action on the proposed paratransit cuts as a result of the public backlash.

Further private Board discussions and staff analysis resulted in the Board’s decision to scrap the change entirely and vote Monday to continue the unlimited one-way rides.

“As a Board, we have been listening, we heard you, and we have taken action,” Board member Juanita Abernathy said.

“We are gratified the Board realizes making a change of this sort is not the right thing to do,” State Sen. Vincent Fort said during public comments.

Fort’s quiet gratitude and measured tone Monday was in stark contrast to his outraged comments of April and May. The same could be said for the string of disabled riders and concerned citizens who cheered and applauded the vote and then thanked the Board for it.

“I want to thank you personally for taking the time to consider the difficult and very necessary decision you had to make,” Heather Stubbs, a disabled rider, told the Board.

“I am so happy and grateful,” Rita Harrison, a disabled rider said. “We spent a lot of time and energy in these rooms. We really thought it was merely falling on deaf ears.”

“Today, we’ve seen what a real public sector, public transit system can do when it puts its mind to it,” Terence Courtney, Coordinator of Atlanta Jobs with Justice, said.

Jobs with Justice and the Atlanta Transit Riders’ Union allied with the disabled community to successfully network and push the Board to reconsider.

“Thank you to the MARTA Board for taking action and doing what is right,” Paul Booth, another outspoken disabled rider, said. “It is about time I come into this room and say something good for a change.”

While others were grateful, they noted there are many changes that still need to happen.

“It’s a step in the right direction but it is only a step,” Samuel Mitchell, another disabled rider, told the Board.

Courtney spoke of the need for more Paratransit vans and called for rider and operator representation on the Board “in order to come to better decisions earlier.”

Flora Tommie, a concerned activist, urged the Board to take measures to protect the safety of disabled riders, many of whom have been hit or nearly hit by passing cars while crossing dangerous Atlanta streets.

Booth said there should be better signage for the blind. Booth and others also spoke of their frustration with long hold times and the earsplitting music callers must endure while on hold with MARTA’s Paratransit call center.

“Let me tell you, it did not make the Top 40,” Booth quipped about the hold music to the delight of the audience. “Those of us who are blind do not need to become deaf because of it.”

Despite the complaints, many who spoke expressed a willingness to work with MARTA to solve these problems.

“We have a much longer road to travel,” Mitchell added. “We are willing to work with you. I’m looking forward to seeing you again at your next Board meeting.”

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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