Photo by Heather Middleton
By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners voted, Tuesday, to transfer the assets of the county's C-TRAN bus service to the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA). Through the agreement, the county would hand over most of its buses and pay the authority $2.4 million by March 31 to operate three new Xpress bus routes out of the county, to Atlanta.
In a 4-1 vote -- with Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell opposed -- the board chose to initiate the paperwork to hand over 18 of its 24 regular-service buses to GRTA, which will use the buses to operate three new Xpress bus routes -- from Riverdale to the College Park MARTA station; from Jonesboro to the Lakewood/Fort McPherson MARTA station, and from Clayton State University to the Lakewood/Fort McPherson MARTA station.
Through a proposal submitted to the board by GRTA Deputy Director Jim Ritchey, the board will pay the county $2.4 million to operate the routes for up to three years, or until funds expire.
GRTA currently operates three routes in Clayton County, from Jonesboro to downtown Atlanta, from Jonesboro to midtown Atlanta, and from Riverdale to downtown Atlanta. Ritchey told commissioners Tuesday that the pending closure of C-TRAN would likely overwhelm GRTA bus service in the county with new riders, and that more buses would be needed to handle the added demand.
"About half of the people using this service [C-TRAN] are using it to commute to jobs in the Atlanta area," Ritchey said. "With this service [the three additional Xpress routes], we believe we will be able to accommodate about 3,000 trips during the peak periods, to be able to take many of the C-TRAN riders who need access to jobs throughout the region. I wish it was more, but it is the most we can do with the resources we have."
Ritchey's proposal also asks the county to continue to pay the $190,000 lease for its C-TRAN bus facility on Southlake Parkway for another 28 months, from which GRTA will operate the three new Xpress routes. Ritchey also suggested that the county transfer five of its new buses to MARTA.
Through the agreement, Clayton County will retain its six paratransit buses, but neither GRTA nor the county will offer paratransit services for the mobility impaired after March 31.
During the meeting, BOC Vice Chairman Wole Ralph read a prepared statement explaining the intentions behind the board's agreement with GRTA.
"We decided that we could no longer afford to continue to pay $8 million per year to subsidize C-TRAN," Ralph said. "We believe that the actions we have taken tonight in supporting an expansion of commuter bus services in this county strike a better balance between the needs of those who need public transportation and people of this county who have to pay for it."
Bell, who voted against the measure, said that aside from C-TRAN's able-bodied riders, there are more than 400 paratransit riders who will be left without any transit options by the board's decision.
"These are our most needy citizens," Bell said. "Some of them are crippled, blind ... a significant portion of those are dialysis patients. There are people on paratransit who will probably die without this service."
During a public-comment portion of Tuesday's meeting, several residents made impassioned pleas for the BOC to reconsider its actions. Among them was State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur), the chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, who said the board's actions were "short-sighted."
"I am a business owner with a business on the south side," Jones said. "My business won't be the only one affected. The dismantling of this system will create an economic tsunami, the likes of which we have never seen on the south side."
Doris Cortese, executive vice president of Holly Tree Services in Riverdale, said that many of her employees use C-TRAN and that without the service, many of them would have no means to get around the county.
"Clayton County residents are hard-working people who do their best," Cortese said. "Sometimes their best requires riding the bus. Without the bus, these people won't have a job, they won't have the other things they need."
Ralph said that "the state needs to step up" and fund public transit, as "they do in other states."
Bell said the board has made the decision without first going to the Federal Transit Administration, and that there may be repercussions later.
"We can't do anything unless the FTA says we can," Bell said. "What we voted on is speculation ... that is irresponsible."