By Joel Hall
Representatives from airport-area businesses, bus drivers, union workers, and local elected officials urged the Clayton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday to explore all of its options before considering cuts to C-TRAN, the county's bus service. Last month, the county's Transportation and Development Department proposed cuts to the bus service as a way save money.
Cheryle DeDios, executive director of the Hartsfield Area Transportation Management Association, Inc. (HATMA), spoke at a commission meeting on behalf of the organization, which helps airport-related businesses address connectivity and mobility issues.
DeDios said a number of airport businesses subsidize C-TRAN passes for their workers through HATMA as a way to attract and retain employees, and as a way to obtain federal tax relief. She said drastic cuts to C-TRAN services would ultimately hurt ridership, and the business community.
"Twenty-seven airport companies are members of HATMA, and 19 of those 27 purchase C-TRAN passes through us," DeDios said. "This year to date, we have purchased over $23,000 in C-TRAN passes. This is a great program for employers who are trying to attract and maintain quality employees.
"If you start cutting away public transportation in a county that has had it, economic development is going to fall," DeDios continued. "I think the county should be working in partnership arrangements with employers. It's one thing to hurt the rider, but this is actually going to hurt business."
In April, the county's Transportation and Development Department said that while C-TRAN costs $10 million annually to operate, the county is only receiving $2.5 million annually in fare box revenue. The department raised the possibility of increasing fares, cutting weekend services and certain under-performing routes, and decreasing the number of in-service buses during non-peak hours.
Benita West, president of the local chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union, said that the county should consider expanding C-TRAN, rather than cutting the service. She said C-TRAN buses are already filled to capacity, which is causing problems for drivers and riders.
"Please do not consider any service cuts," West said to members of the BOC. She said C-TRAN receives complaints of passengers being left at stops because buses are filled to capacity.
"Cutting service will not cut the need for the service," West said.
Several C-TRAN bus drivers expressed fears about job security and the possibility of switching to another service provider if C-TRAN is scaled back. In 2007, the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) took over operation of C-TRAN from the Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Transit company.
House Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale) voiced her concerns to the BOC on Tuesday.
"I've gotten the alarm calls that services may be cut and routes may be canceled," Abdul-Salaam said. "It has been long noted that we have needed to expand services. Before any action is taken, let us be thorough for the citizens who use it."
Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said the board is exploring every possible alternative to cutting services, including seeking funding from the federal government and support from the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA).
"I take it kind of personally, because my mother rode the bus," Bell said. "I would like not to cut C-TRAN services. We are examining virtually every option that will keep us from having to cut services."