By Joel Hall
State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) and the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus will hold a public hearing at the State Capitol to discuss ways to save Clayton County's C-TRAN bus service.
With the bus system scheduled to end March 31, due to funding shortfalls, local leaders will exchange ideas on to how to keep the bus system alive.
The public hearing will take place Wednesday, Feb. 10, from 3:30 p.m., to 5 p.m., in Room 216 of the Capitol building, located at 206 Washington St., S.W., in Atlanta.
Jones, who also serves as chairman of the black caucus, represents the state's 10th Senate district, which includes portions of DeKalb and Henry counties. He said the shutdown of C-TRAN would have regional consequences, and would likely send federal dollars that could be used for regional transportation projects here, to states such as North Carolina and Florida.
"The governor finally got behind supporting public transportation with a [proposed] $300 million bond," Jones said. "He also put his support behind a regional tax for public transportation. When we are getting more money for transportation funding, it seems counterintuitive for Clayton County to say, 'We are shutting down our system.'
"Transportation," he said, "is going to determine whether we move forward, or take a back seat to states like North Carolina and Florida. All those jobs [that could be lost if C-TRAN shuts down] are going to have a ripple effect in the community."
Jones said several "major stakeholders" have been invited to the discussion, including representatives from the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, ITT Technical Institute, and Clayton State University, as well as members of labor organizations and the business community.
Jones expressed particular concern for ITT Technical Institute's Clayton County campus, which this week, relocated from 1745 Phoenix Blvd., to nearby 485 Oak Place in north Clayton. He said 35 percent of the college's student population uses C-TRAN as their primary means to getting to, and from, school, and ending the service would hinder the school's growth.
"They are moving because they are expanding," Jones said. "They have grown from 100 students a few years ago to 600 students today. With the growth trend they are on, their growth should top out at 1,000 [students] in the next two or three years. With that kind of growth, and that many people riding C-TRAN, it's going to cripple that school."
Representatives from ITT Technical Institute's Clayton County campus could not be reached for comment on Monday. A recording left on the school's general mailbox said the school will be closed until Thursday, while the campus relocates to its Oak Place site.
In October, Clayton County's board of commissioners voted to suspend all operations of C-TRAN, as of March 31, 2010, due to funding shortfalls. In December, the board failed to consider a vote on a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grant, which would have provided $2.7 million in federal dollars to the operation of C-TRAN.
BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell, who has been the board's lone voice calling for continued county funding of the service, said ending C-TRAN would also have a severe impact on Clayton State University, and various county businesses. He said the action would also send "the wrong message" to other governments seeking to provide Clayton with funding to expand its existing transportation infrastructure.
"It sends the wrong message to the region," Bell said. "Let's assume they [C-TRAN's ridership] are all poor, and let's assume they [people against C-TRAN] want them all to move out. What happens to our rental stock that we have an abundance of? They all go out of business. If those people move away, those same people [against C-TRAN] will be complaining when we have to go up on taxes.
"The people of Clayton County, in a referendum, voted for us to have transit, and provided a mechanism for us to pay for it, which the Board of Commissioners has rejected," Bell said. "They did turn down the money from the FTA ... I have to believe it goes beyond funding. I believe that if the county truly wants transit, the county can have transit."
Bell said he would make "every effort" to attend next Wednesday's public hearing. He said he will ask the state to support a one-cent regional sales tax for transportation and to reconsider allowing the county to levy an additional one-cent tax on goods sold in the areas of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport that are in Clayton County.
Jones said he hopes to bring the governor and the state into the conversation about keeping the C-TRAN service running. "I don't think there is any program that government runs that is profitable," Jones said. "We offer a service, and that is paid for by the taxpayers. If we can find a way of spreading the burden ... then, I am all for that. We need to change some hearts, minds, and souls, so we can change our current transportation crisis in Clayton County."