By Joel Hall
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), the operator of Clayton County's C-TRAN bus service, announced that it will let go 70 C-TRAN employees once the service terminates on March 31.
The loss of jobs will impact C-TRAN bus operators and mechanics, as well as administrative staff members.
According to MARTA Spokesperson Lyle V. Harris, the 70 C-TRAN employees losing their jobs received their letters of termination on Wednesday. "Seventy C-TRAN employees were informed yesterday that their jobs would be terminated as of March 31," Harris said on Thursday. "So far, there are an additional 17 employees who were able to come over to our system (MARTA) from C-TRAN."
Harris said the 17 C-TRAN employees able to transfer to MARTA include a mixture of drivers and bus maintenance workers.
Benita West, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 732 -- the union which represents most of the C-TRAN bus drivers -- could not be reached for comment on Thursday. The Clayton News Daily attempted to reach several C-TRAN bus drivers by phone on Thursday, but was unsuccessful.
In October, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted 4-1 to suspend all operations of C-TRAN, as of March 31, 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 continued operation of C-TRAN.
On Feb. 16, the board voted 4-1 to transfer the assets of the county's C-TRAN bus service to the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA). Pending the approval of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the county will hand over most of its buses to GRTA and pay them $2.4 million to operate three new Xpress bus routes out of the county, to Atlanta, for a period of three years, or until funds expire.
MARTA would not comment on how the decision will impact C-TRAN workers.
"We've made a decision that we're not going to get into that, because it wasn't our call," Harris said. "We're just a contractor and it would be inappropriate for us to comment. They [the Clayton County Commissioners] are duly-elected officials and had every right to make that decision."
BOC Vice Chairman Wole Ralph, one of the four commissioners to endorse ending C-TRAN services, said the situation was "unfortunate," but a sign that the "economic downturn has touched just about every sector." He said that even with a penny tax, the City of Atlanta, Fulton County, and DeKalb County have struggled to support public transit from their general funds.
"DeKalb laid off 30 people yesterday," Ralph said on Thursday. "Last week, DeKalb County announced they were facing a $100 million deficit. Fulton County faced a similar number. From our perspective, and what MARTA is doing, they are instituting some large, cost-cutting measures themselves. I think the [Clayton County] commission is attempting to make financial decisions in order to maintain services in the county and deal with a dwindling tax base.
"I like public transit," he continued. "I think public transit is essential. The C-TRAN vote was a very difficult decision, and was one that I and other commissioners wrestled with. If public transit is going to grow, the state has to support local transit."
Ralph said the board has encouraged MARTA to find as many jobs as it can for laid-off C-TRAN workers. He said the board has also asked GRTA to work with the union to find opportunities for employees impacted by the C-TRAN shut down.
BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell, the only commissioner to vote against ending C-TRAN, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
GRTA Communications Director William Mecke said, pending the FTA approval of the board's arrangement with GRTA to create three new Xpress bus routes, GRTA may hire as many as 20 new drivers and mechanics. He said interested applicants would have to go through the normal process of hiring, by sending a resume and cover letter to: Xpress, c/o Professional Transit Management, 245 Peachtree Center Avenue, N.E., Suite 800, Atlanta, Ga. 30303-1223.
"If we're approved for these new routes, we will be hiring new bus drivers and, possibly, mechanics," Mecke said. "That is all dependent on the FTA approving this. You hate to hear in this economy that anybody is losing their job. It's an unfortunate reality of the decision that the Clayton County Board of Commissioners have made."