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Higher C-TRAN fares, service cuts suggested

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton County government has issued an official notice of a public hearing on proposed cost-cutting measures to its C-TRAN bus service.

On the table for consideration are fare increases; a six-month $1.75 surcharge on one-way travel; the elimination or truncation of some routes; and the elimination of the C-TRAN service in its entirety.

The public hearing will take place on Oct. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Clayton County Administration Building, located at 112 Smith St., in Jonesboro.

Among the options being considered are:

· Implement a fare increase.

· Implement a $1.75 surcharge for six months, plus a fare increase.

· Implement a para-transit increase, in addition to the current para-transit base fare, plus the $1.75 surcharge.

· Eliminate Route 500 (the airport loop).

· Eliminate Georgia Department of Transportation and Southern Regional Medical Center Trippers (extra buses serving busy routes).

· Eliminate Sunday service.

· Eliminate Saturday and Sunday service.

· Eliminate all service effective July 1, 2010.

Rhonda Briggins-Ridley, director of external affairs for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), which operates C-TRAN, said the options were confirmed in a meeting involving MARTA Deputy General Manager Dwight Ferrell, Clayton County Public Transit Coordinator Frank Beauford, and several other Clayton officials.

"Based on the dollar amounts that are needed [to make up C-TRAN's budget shortfall of $1.3 million], these are the options that the county [is] going to take to the public hearing," Briggins-Ridley said. "The final decisions that go to the public are decisions that the county will have to make."

Ferrell and Beauford could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Patricia Bass, Chairman of the C-TRAN Elderly Disabled Access Advisory Committee, said many riders who use para-transit services would agree to fare increases, but said a $1.75 surcharge per ride may be too much for elderly and disabled riders to pay. According to Bass, the current price for the one-way para-transit fare is $3, compared to $1.50 for regular bus travel.

"The people that I talk to, they don't care about the increase," Bass said. "They would rather have the increase, rather than a decrease in the service. I could see an increase in the fare, but with the surcharge, it's something else."

Bass said the elimination of weekend service would be "devastating" for elderly and disabled riders, many of whom also depend on the bus to make it to regular doctor's appointments.

"It would be devastating, because a lot of people use the para-transit to go to dialysis, and if they don't have service on Saturday, what are they going to do?" Bass said. "I'm quite sure there is another way."

Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell said he believes many of the proposed C-TRAN cuts are "drastic" in terms of addressing a $1.3 budget shortfall for the service. He said he would like to work with commissioners to find ways to make up the shortfall without making drastic cutbacks.

"The drastic cuts would destroy the system, and leave our people with no way to go to work, to get medical care, and attend school," he said.

"Para-transit people are already complaining that they have to take transit versus eating, or they have to seek medical care versus their basic bills," he said. "I believe we can do better -- and we ought to. I am willing to work with my commissioners in finding new revenue sources to help some of our most-valued citizens.

"We are about $1.3 million short in our budget" for C-TRAN, Bell continued. "I believe that, if our board sat down around this issue, that we could find a way to take measures that would, at best, minimize some of the pain that people would have to suffer by cutting these routes. We don't want empty buses ... but I think, if we look for solutions, we can find them. I want to take a closer look before we start talking about eliminating [services]."