Clayton Public Transit May Cease Service Next Week

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(APN) JONESBORO — Clayton County’s contract with MARTA to run its public transportation system, C-TRAN, is about to be terminated on March 31, 2010, leaving an estimated two-thirds of its riders with no transportation. Residents packed a Board of Commissioners meeting last Wednesday, March 16, to speak against the cuts.

During the meeting, Yusef Poole, Staff Attorney for Clayton County, said the elimination of C-TRAN would save the County money and that County revenues are down 19 million dollars from last fiscal year.

Poole asked the Commission to approve asking for federal grant funding for three vans to transport the disabled after the elimination of the C-TRAN, which the Commission approved, although Chairman Eldrin Bell said he did not know whether the grant being sought could actually be used for paratransit.

One-third of the former C-TRAN passengers will now receive service from Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) Xpress buses. GRTA currently operates three express buses in Clayton County and expects 3,000 former C-TRAN riders to begin using those buses after March 31, according to the Clayton News Daily newspaper.

However, everyone else will be without a way to get to work, medical appointments, the grocery store, or just about anywhere not within walking distance.

Bell said the lack of discussion on the part of the Board on this issue was irresponsible.

When the floor was opened for public comment, where speakers had two minutes each to speak, those opposing the closing of public transportation in a Metro county expressed opinions to the Board.

The Commissioners who did support closing C-TRAN were Commissioners Michael Edmondson, Gail Hambrick, Wole Ralph, and Sonna Singleton.

Speaker Gary Frank commented to the Board that this will cause great hardship as only five cities in Clayton, and only one-third of current C-TRAN riders, will be served.

Chrisangela Kitts pointed out that students will not be able to get to schools and colleges.

Frank Risano said those looking for work and those with jobs will not be able to find transportation and he warned that the county will turn into a ghost town. He thought if there was money for the local prison there were funds for transportation.

C-TRAN bus driver Nichell Phillips said three handicapped vans were not sufficient and her buses were filled to capacity without cuts in service.

The Atlanta Public Sector Alliance, the Atlanta Transit Riders Union, and the Clayton Transit Riders Union has been engaging in direct action and protest to oppose what they see as the elimination of public transit in an effort to privatize public services.

For example, last Sunday, they went to church of Commissioner Singleton and passed out leaflets outside, urging church members to put pressure on her to keep C-TRAN runnning, APSA leader Terence Courtney told Atlanta Progressive News.

APSA had a mobilization at Clayton Chamber of Commerce on March 16 where Commissioners Ralph and Edmonson graduated from Leadership Clayton, Courtney said. They had a demonstration at Accion USA, on March 18, where Commissioner Ralph works giving micro-loans to businesses.

HOW CLAYTON PUBLIC TRANSIT GOT TO THIS POINT

There was a decrease in revenue of 19 million dollars for the year and Clayton needed to make cuts because they could not increase the sales tax any more under State law.

The Commission voted 4-1 to end C-TRAN, which was costing the county 8 million per year, in October 2009, with Chairman Bell the only one voting no.

Then, December 15, 2009, the Board adopted a resolution allowing MARTA to apply for a 2.7 million dollar Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) grant on behalf of C-TRAN, according to the Clayton News Daily. The grant was a federal stimulus grant available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). However, the Board proposed that ARRA funds alone would be used to continue C-TRAN service for the year.

MARTA then informed Clayton that the FTA would not support ARRA funds being the sole funding source and that Clayton would have to exhaust its own local funding before seeking federal funding.

Chairman Bell made a motion to approve a new resolution at a meeting in late December to leverage its own funds to get the federal grant, but not a single other Commissioner woiuld second the motion, the News Daily reported.

Alvatina Upshaw, member of the transit workers union as well as the newly formed organization ACT Now Georgia, said Commissioners claimed they had gotten calls from their constituents asking them to oppose the federal funding. “That was their excuse,” Upshaw told APN.

Upshaw pointed out to the Board that improvements in the County have all been for people who can afford cars, expensive housing, and malls, not the majority of the county.

Then, on February 16, 2010, the Commission voted to approve a new contract with GRTA, also 4-1, with Bell voting no. The County would have transferred 2.4 million dollars and 18 of its buses to GRTA, in exchange for GRTA operating three new express routes from Clayton County to Atlanta for up to three years, or until funds expire, the News Daily reported. The three express routes would still have not made up for the loss of C-TRAN but would have helped some residents.

However, the contract was also anticipating funding under a federal grant program called the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program. However, the FTA denied the application because they did not see any congestion mitigation benefits and the contract was also expecting funding on a transportation sales tax referendum which so far has neither been approved by the legislature nor by the voters.

The Commission then voted 4-0 to ask US Rep. David Scott (D-GA) to intervene with the FTA. Scott had agreed to do so; however, his ability to influence the FTA may be limited if the federal government does not see the State of Georgia supporting some long-term funding mechanism for public transportation like C-TRAN.

The APSA believes that the Commission should take the 2.4 million dollars it was going to give to GRTA and use it to continue to fund C-TRAN in some capacity.

Meanwhile, Clayton County cannot seek to raise its own sales tax without a waiver from the state, which imposes a limit of three cents per dollar that can be raised by any county. “The County is maxed out on new taxes and needs a waiver from the State to add more,” Courtney said.

State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam has introduced emergency legislation to provide Clayton County with a waiver to allow voters to approve an additional penny in sales taxes for C-TRAN. The soonest voters could approve to levy the tax would be November, even if it first passes the legislature, however.

Courtney thinks the better solution would be a referendum asking for Clayton to join MARTA and to expand services.

Abdul-Salaam said at the meeting the legislature should have received a request for full funding of C-TRAN. She told the Board to “quit playing games and be serious.” She also suggested they become a full-fledged member of MARTA in order to get funding.

Clayton County is the poorest Atlanta Metro county. Courtney, Bell, and others said they feel this action is an effort to get the poor out of the Clayton County.

(END/2010)

About the author:

Alice Gordon is a Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at alice@atlantaprogressivenews.com. Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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