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MARTA chief discusses C-TRAN options

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In a town hall meeting hosted by state Reps. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale) and Darryl Jordan (D-Riverdale), the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority's (MARTA) General Manager and CEO Beverly Scott spoke to residents about the issues facing the county's C-TRAN bus service, and what they can do to help it continue to operate.

More than 100 people, including C-TRAN riders, community activists, union organizers, and state and city officials, gathered at New Macedonia Baptist Church in Riverdale on Thursday to discuss ways to save the C-TRAN bus service, which the county has debated scaling back or terminating completely.

Jordan, who spoke prior to Scott's presentation to public, said the county stands at a crossroads that requires action on the part of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners.

"We're here today because we're at a special time in Clayton County where we can go one way or the other," Jordan said. "My thought is, 'Do you want it, or do you not want it?' That is the question that I have for our commissioners. We're not here to bash them. We want to help them find out how we can keep C-TRAN. I'm here to find out what we can do."

Since 2007, MARTA has been contracted operated C-TRAN. It took over operations from the Ohio-based First Transit company. Scott said she recently confronted Clayton County commissioners about the financial figures in the fiscal year 2010 operating budget for C-TRAN.

"In there, there was an assumption that the fare would increase 50 cents from $1.50 to $2," Scott said. "I don't know who made those estimates, but they were flawed. The budget, out from the hopper, was $1.3 million short."

Scott said that in July, 31 days into fiscal year 2010, she confronted the Board of Commissioners about C-TRAN's budget problems.

Scott said that on Sept. 11, she sent a letter to the Board of Commissioners stating that if the board did not take action to start the process of public hearings required to make changes to C-TRAN service, she would terminate MARTA's contract with the county within 120 days. She said the board's decision to call the first public hearing about C-TRAN changes for Oct. 7 was based on her letter.

"We can't continue to operate at this burn rate," Scott said. "For us, it is about our customers first, but we have 100 employees tied to this as well. We are not going to continue to run a service on a collision course."

Scott said the county "has a combination of options" to address C-TRAN's budget shortfall, such as routing more funding to the service, increasing fares, and cutting some non-productive routes.

She also suggested that citizens could press lawmakers to consider "annexing" Clayton County into MARTA's operating area. "You have to go to the Legislature," Scott said.

Scott said that with the approval of the Board of Commissioners, MARTA could implement C-TRAN service reductions as soon as Nov. 14 and fare increases as soon Jan. 2, 2010. She said that if nothing is done, the system will "run out" of money by "March 2010."

Abdul-Salaam said that ending C-TRAN would be disastrous for Clayton County.

"It's going to hurt our businesses if people can't get to us," she said. "If there are 15,000 people who aren't working, and are going on the rolls of DFACS (the Department of Family and Children Services) and food stamps, then what are we gaining? If this bus service can keep 10 families out of poverty, is it worth it?"

No member of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners was seen during the meeting on Thursday.

Scott urged the board to take action to fund the county's bus service.

"Any service is valuable to the people who use it," Scott said. "Not making a decision is a decision. If you [the Board of Commissioners] don't take any action, we will blow through the dollars."