Transit Advocates Unveil Riders’ Vision for Regional Transit

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(APN) ATLANTA — A diverse coalition of transit riders, employees, and other advocates released a new report Tuesday, April 29, 2008, outlining a vision for regional transit in Atlanta from the perspective of riders who depend on transit.

The report is a result of two years of research conducted by the Atlanta Transit Riders’ Union (TRU), a group of transit dependent riders affiliated with Atlanta Jobs with Justice, and the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 732 (ATU).

The first section of the report examines existing transit systems, the demographics of transit riders, and transit proposals in Atlanta through the eyes of people without cars.

The second section outlines the transit riders’ and workers’ vision of an accessible, affordable, and accountable regional transit system.

The areas of study include the ten counties which are also represented on Atlanta’s Transit Planning Board (TPB), which is a governmental effort to plan regional transit in Atlanta: Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, and Rockdale.

Advocates compiled this report, in part, as a response to measures used by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), Atlanta’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) that produces a long-range Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) every three years.

In 2006, the ARC and other regional transportation agencies accepted the proposal from Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Congestion Mitigation Task Force to weight congestion relief as 70 percent in the project selection process.

This means when projects are considered for inclusion in the RTP and for funding in the Transportation Improvement Program, Atlanta’s short range transportation plan and budget, a plan’s ability to relieve congestion is 70 percent of the consideration.

The advocates’ report argues congestion relief does very little for the transit dependent because they are not driving on congested roads and their transportation needs exist outside of peak-hours and off the peak roadways. The transit dependent, the report notes, often make work trips not at peak hours.

The report recommends reducing the congestion relief weight and increasing the weight for the measure of mobility and accessibility for all.

At its core, the report makes two main arguments.

First, accessibility to quality, affordable public transit is a human right, the report argues. The report notes public transit is necessary to ensure that people who cannot own or drive cars–whether by choice or otherwise–have the ability to access all types of destinations, regardless of race, economic status, or quality of life.

Second, the experiences and knowledge of transit dependent people and workers are critical to the planning and decision-making of a transit system, the report says.

While most transit planning processes include a public involvement portion, the report argues transit dependent communities are often not involved and when they do participate, their voices are not always heard.

The report recommends including riders and workers in all transit planning through well-publicized, well-televised, open public meetings held on weekends or evenings in accessible locations.

Other recommendations include improving existing services, especially in terms of special services for the disabled; implementing an egalitarian fare structure; increasing funding from the state and other Metro counties; and improving accessibility.

The report recommends placing all employees represented by the ATU under one contract.

It also recommends building affordable housing in all developments near stations and ensuring transit reaches areas with affordable housing.

The two dozen or so citizens in attendance at a press conference Tuesday railed against what they view as an attempt by private interests to wrest transit control out of public hands.

“This kind of effort to undermine MARTA…must stop,” Rev. Timothy McDonald, pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church, said. “We need a regional plan that comes from people who ride MARTA…not some corporate head.”

Those advocating for this approach made it clear they are up to the challenge of an inevitable long struggle to bring an egalitarian plan to fruition.

“It’s time to basically own up to the fact that this region needs a real plan not just in name,” Robert Bullard, the director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, said. “It’s important we have a real plan and not just pie in the sky.”

“The time to sit back and be apathetic…is over,” Addis Bey Ababa, of the Atlanta chapter of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, said. “We’ve got to hit the bricks.”

After the press conference, advocates went to the TPB’s regular meeting at the downtown library to present the new report and to make their voices heard.

Terence Courtney, coordinator of Atlanta Jobs with Justice, told APN this report will eventually be presented to other state and local agencies, counties, and municipalities for their consideration.

Readers wishing to view the entire report may do so by visiting www.atljwj.org

About the author:

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

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