Clayton mass transit on road to revival?

Feasibility study expected by year’s end

— Clayton County residents tired of waiting for localized mass transit’s return may soon see a light at the end of the tunnel.

County officials are preparing to do a feasibility study that will look at how great a need there is for a return of mass transit. They announced their plans during a leadership summit held Wednesday in conjunction with the school system and the Clayton County Legislative Delegation.

It has been three-and-a-half years since the demise of C-Tran, the MARTA-run bus system that moved residents among a select number of stops within the county. In that time, the only available mass transit system has been the Georgia Rapid Transit Authority buses but they only carry people between one of GRTA’s bus stops in the county and a point in downtown Atlanta.

No GRTA buses are shuttling residents from Riverdale to Southlake Mall in Morrow or the State Farmer’s Market in Forest Park.

“They need service, they need public transportation and we as public servants have an obligation to study the feasibility of providing it to them,” said county commission Chairman Jeff Turner.

Arrelle Anderson, the county’s chief operating officer, said the county is still in the early stages of planning the public transportation study. In other words, residents shouldn’t expect to see buses — other than GRTA buses — roaring up and down Tara Boulevard any time soon.

The county hasn’t picked someone to do the study yet. That will come after a request for proposals is released.

“What we’re doing right is now is we’re compiling the information we need for the scope of work,” said Anderson. “What we want to do is go through an RFP process to have vendors tell us how much it’s going to cost and how they’re going to approach it. Our goal is to award the contract by December.”

Anderson said the study could cost between $150,000 and $200,000, but officials want to see what interested parties will charge. The Atlanta Regional Commission and the Federal Transit Administration have expressed an interest in helping the county pay for the study, said Anderson.

But, despite a 2010 nonbinding vote where 67 percent of voters said they would support joining MARTA, the issue will likely be divisive.

Although opponents were in the minority in the vote, they were vocal on online message boards and, to a lesser extent, at public meetings. However, supporters of mass transit have also made their voices heard loud and clear.

Those voices rang out loudly during the summit.

Former state Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam said convicts in the county who have been released from prison have a hard time getting jobs and starting new lives because of they have no way to get to those jobs.

“How do they turn their lives around if there is no transit?,” she said.

Abdul-Salaam said public transportation is meant to be a service and not a money-making venture. Commissioners shut down C-Tran because it cost millions of dollars more to operate than it was earning from riders.

Felicia Franklin Morton, a Clayton County transplant from Miami, said she was surprised the county is still at the stage of discussing the possibility of providing mass transit in the 21st century.

“We’re a little behind the times to be talking about a public transportation system,” said Morton.

State Rep. Darryl Jordan (D-Riverdale) was a little more forthright in his opinion on the matter and expressed some of the frustration supporters have espoused in the past over the slow path to mass transit’s return.

“Why do we need a study when the people have already spoken?,” said Jordan. “Quit wasting money. Let’s move on this.”