By Joel Hall
Since the March 31 demise of C-TRAN, Clayton County's bus service, county residents relying on public transportation have had no public options, aside from three Xpress bus routes shuttling riders directly to downtown and midtown Atlanta.
This week, the Georgia Public Service Commission approved the county's first passenger-van alternative to C-TRAN since the bus system's shut down. County officials also updated the public on what may be a transportation alternative for former C-TRAN riders who are medically disabled.
On Tuesday, the Public Service Commission granted emergency authority to Charles Turman and Bisola Ige-Turman -- husband and wife co-owners of Southside Transportation -- to operate a passenger-van service along some of C-TRAN's former routes. According to Southside Transportation's operators, the service will consist of two 15-passenger vans, which will carry passengers to the College Park MARTA rail station, Xpress Park-and-Ride lots inside the county, and to some stops along C-TRAN's former 504 and 503 routes.
According to Bill Edge, a spokesman for the Public Service Commission, part of the organization's duties include regulating household goods movers, luxury limousine carriers, buses, motor carriers and non-consensual towing within the state. He said Southside Transportation's application to operate, received on March 30, is the first application it has received from a company offering an alternative service to C-TRAN.
"I'm sure with the situation in Clayton County, the owners [of Southside Transportation] wanted to provide service right away instead of waiting to get permanent authority," Edge said. "They applied for a certificate and the commission went ahead and gave them an emergency certificate to operate. This is two vans carrying 30 people, but in the context of C-TRAN canceling and stranding hundreds of people, I guess small steps are better than no steps."
Edge said Southside Transportation has been given 60 days to operate, after which it will have to acquire a permanent certificate. In order to receive the emergency certificate, the owners of the service submitted to a safety inspection by the Georgia Department of Public Safety, a criminal background check, and provided the Public Service Commission with proof of liability insurance.
Charles Turman, who currently operates One Love Transportation, a service transporting the loved ones of inmates back and forth from correctional facilities in the metro area, said Tuesday was his first official day of operating Southside Transportation.
He said he has been charging customers "two to three dollars" per one-way trip, based on the distance. He said customers use the service by calling (404) 201-8345 at least 20 minutes ahead of time, and that one of the two vans will attempt to pick up the customer, based on their location.
"I just want to play my part in providing transportation for people," said Turman, who operates one of the vans. "I'm not in agreeance to what was done [in regards to C-TRAN]. This put a lot of people into a bad predicament. I am going to do whatever I can to assist in that."
In October, citing budgetary constraints, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to end C-TRAN. The nine-year-old service ceased to exist on March 31.
Turman said in its first day of operation, usage of Southside Transportation was "heavy." While he said he does not have immediate plans to expand the service, Turman said he would like to offer the service while there are no local public transit options.
"If it grows, it grows," Turman said. "I just want to continue to help a few more people continue to keep their jobs."
During the Clayton County Board of Commissioners' regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday night, Clayton County Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas updated the public on a new paratransit service the county plans to offer to those who depend on public transportation for medical reasons.
Cohilas said that in the near future, the county's Senior Services Department will administer a new service consisting of three paratransit vehicles, operated by the Clayton County Community Services Authority and paid for with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. Users of the service, however, will have to pass certain income- and need-based guidelines, he said.
On Tuesday, Cohilas said the cost and scope of the service has not yet been approved by the county.
"I believe we will have a complete action plan, with a budget, ready for your review by the first [BOC] meeting in May," Cohilas told commissioners. He said that after reviewing a list of 316 former C-TRAN paratransit riders, only 14 people "have expressed an interest and met the screening criteria" as of Tuesday.
A public hearing on the county's proposed paratransit service will take place today (Thursday) at 7 p.m., at the Clayton County Administration Building, located at 112 Smith St., in Jonesboro. Cohilas said the county will accept written comments regarding the new service until April 20.