Clayton County's C-TRAN service has been down a long and winding road since the buses hit the streets in 2001. Here are a few key events in the history of the service, and how it came to be that on Thursday, the buses were no longer running.
Oct. 1, 2001: Customers boarded the first C-TRAN bus. The county established the new bus system using federal grant monies from the Federal Transit Administration. MARTA operated the C-TRAN buses through a service contract between Clayton County and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA).
2004: MARTA lost the C-TRAN contract after being underbid by Cincinnati-based transit system, First Transit. The Clayton County Commission chose First Transit as the cheaper option to run C-TRAN and gave the company a three-year, renewable contract.
March 2007: After several customer complaints about First Transit's service, commissioners contemplated giving the C-TRAN operating contract back to MARTA. County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell suggested that if the county returned the operation to MARTA, it could take advantage of the legislation that set up MARTA in 1965, and place an additional 1 percent sales tax on goods and services sold in the part of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport that sits in Clayton County, which could be used as a funding source for transit.
April 2007: Commissioner Wole Ralph said the board had "not opted to renew" its operation contract with First Transit. Ralph said the "funding aspect for MARTA makes it very appealing," and that a 1 percent sales tax on goods and services at the airport would generate more than $3 million a year, and was "an opportunity to decrease the cost to the county budget" for operating C-TRAN.
June 2007: Sixty drivers, 12 mechanics and three administrators for First Transit scrambled for new employment after the county decided not to renew its service agreement with the company. MARTA was slated to take over C-TRAN's operation in October 2007.
August 2007: The Clayton County Board of Commissioners came close to reversing several months of contract negotiations with MARTA to take over the operation of C-TRAN, after learning that the county would not legally be able to capitalize on the penny tax at the airport as a funding source. County Attorney Michael Smith informed the board that the county would need approval from the state legislature to levy any additional sales tax. In a 2-3 vote, the board voted down a resolution to reverse a resolution passed months earlier to accept MARTA's bid.
June 2009: As Clayton County grappled with the fiscal 2010 budget, several commissioners proposed drastic C-TRAN service cuts as a way to stave off cuts to the county's public safety departments. "It's really been a financial burden," Commissioner Gail Hambrick said of the county's C-TRAN service. "If I was going to do any cutting, that would be at the top of my list. If it came between public safety and C-TRAN, I would like to think the citizens would say public safety."
"C-TRAN is not the only one, but it uses quite a bit of money out of our budget," said Commissioner Sonna Singleton. "We have to definitely look at this because we can't put the citizens' public safety at risk."
June 30, 2009: The Board of Commissioners approved a budget of $176.8 million, factoring in an additional $17.9 million in property tax revenues. C-TRAN received a $2 million cut in its operational funding. Commissioner Wole Ralph said at the time the board would likely seek a referendum on the continued funding of C-TRAN , but the referendum was not held.
Sept. 15, 2009: Hundreds of residents packed the Clayton County Administration Building to hear MARTA General Manager and CEO Beverly Scott discuss financial concerns surrounding C-TRAN. Scott suggested the board come up with a "Marshall Plan" to address a $1.3 million budget shortfall for C-TRAN. "The longer we delay this, the deeper the cuts have to be, the deeper the fare increases have to be," Scott said.
A few minutes into her presentation, Commissioner Wole Ralph made a motion to end her remarks, which eventually passed 4-1 with Eldrin Bell opposed, inciting anger from those in the crowd.
Oct. 7, 2009: Nearly 200 people, many sporting red shirts and waving white rally towels in a show of solidarity, protested proposed service cuts and fare surcharges, and urged commissioners to find the $1.3 million needed to fill C-TRAN's budget shortfall. Security at the Clayton County Administration Building was high. Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell was the only commissioner seen attending the public hearing.
Oct. 13, 2009: On Tuesday, Oct. 13, all county commissioners, with the exception of Chairman Eldrin Bell, voted in favor of the termination of C-TRAN on March 31, 2010.
Board Vice Chairman Wole Ralph, who made the motion to end the service, said he would reconsider the C-TRAN service if the county could find another funding source, other than the county's general budget.
Dec. 22, 2009: After asking MARTA to apply for a $2.7 million Federal Transit Administration grant on behalf of C-TRAN, and being told by MARTA the county would have to use up the money it had already budgeted to operate the service before FTA money would kick in, BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell motioned for the board to adopt an amended resolution, committing the county to spend all of the $6.6 million it had already set aside in fiscal 2010 for C-TRAN operations. The motion never came to a vote, due to a failure of any other commissioner to second the motion.
Feb. 24, 2010: MARTA announced that it would let go 70 C-TRAN employees once the service terminated on March 31.
March 2, 2010: GRTA announced that the FTA shot down a proposal to add three new Xpress bus routes in Clayton County. The plan -- which the Clayton County Board of Commissioners consented to on Feb. 16 -- involved the county transferring $2.4 million and 18 of its regular-service buses to GRTA, in exchange for GRTA operating three new Xpress routes from Clayton County to Atlanta for up to three years, or until funds expire.
In a Feb. 26 letter addressed to GRTA Deputy Director Jim Ritchey, FTA Region IV Administrator Yvette G. Taylor told GRTA that it "has not provided a sufficient financial plan to demonstrate the likely long-term viability of the new type of service."
March 15, 2010: U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) wrote to the FTA , asking FTA Regional Administrator Yvette Taylor to reconsider the decision to deny $4.3 million in federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding to GRTA for the addition of three new Xpress bus routes, saying the decision would leave "no bus transit options in Clayton County," effectively "stranding them [C-TRAN riders] in their homes."
March 23, 2010: The FTA denied a request from U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) to reconsider its decision to deny Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding to GRTA for the addition of three new Xpress bus routes.
March 26, 2010: A proposal by State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale) to lift Clayton County's sales tax cap, to allow the county to put the question to voters of whether to levy another 1 percent for transit and join MARTA as a paying member-county, passed a House vote before a key deadline to stay alive for the 2010 session. The bill is awaiting action in the Senate.
March 31, 2010: C-TRAN riders, supporters, politicians and the media were on hand as the last C-TRAN bus of the day completed its final stops and made its way from the airport to the maintenance facility in Jonesboro. At 11:59 p.m., the service was no more.