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MARTA leaders pledge 'robust service' if Clayton County opts in

Commissioners have several questions about county's place at the table

MARTA CEO Keith Parker, left, and Board of Directors Chairman Robert Ashe pitch their system’s services to Clayton County commissioners Tuesday night. Parker and Ashe said they were excited about the possibility that Clayton County could opt into the system and promised “robust service” to residents. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

MARTA CEO Keith Parker, left, and Board of Directors Chairman Robert Ashe pitch their system’s services to Clayton County commissioners Tuesday night. Parker and Ashe said they were excited about the possibility that Clayton County could opt into the system and promised “robust service” to residents. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)

JONESBORO — MARTA officials made their case to get Clayton County to opt into the transit service, but questions lingered from county commissioners and residents.

Clayton County leaders are considering opting into MARTA as one of their options for reviving public transit in the county. It has been more than four years since the previous system, C-Tran, was shut down by commissioners because of funding issues. At the time, MARTA was managing C-Tran through a contract with the county.

Legislation was passed earlier this year to let the county hold a referendum — possibly as soon as November — on joining the service and the county is now studying its options.

But MARTA Board of Directors Chairman Robert Ashe and CEO Keith Parker were hopeful that the county would join their system rather than start a new one from scratch.

“I’m here more in my capacity as chairman of the board, not just because I’m proud of the things you’re going to learn about us, but to talk about the enthusiasm I and my colleagues have about the possibility that Clayton will join our system as a full partner,” said Ashe.

But joining MARTA — or even holding a referendum to join the transit system — is not a done deal. Commissioners have until July 1 to decide whether to hold a binding MARTA referendum.

However, they also had several questions about how much input the county would have in deciding what kind of service it would have, whether sales tax money raised in county for MARTA would stay here and the likelihood of commuter rail coming to the county.

Rex resident Larry O’Keeffe told commissioners he had concerns about what he perceived to be a disparity between the number of MARTA stops in northern Fulton County versus the southern half of that county.

“My fear is that we would become a cash cow for MARTA and the service would be minimal,” said O’Keeffe, who later said he supports mass transit.

O’Keeffe said expects to see residents support the re-establishment of a mass transit system while alluding to an outpouring of demands for a service at various venues, including commission meetings and SPLOST forums, in recent years.

“Whatever we put on the ballot is going to pass so we need to be careful what we put on the ballot,” said O’Keeffe.

Parker spent much of his time discussing improvements that had been made to make MARTA a more financially stable agency in recent years. However, his presentation lacked specific details about how Clayton County would benefit from opting into the service until commissioners began peppering him with questions.

Parker said Clayton County would get two voting representatives on the MARTA Board of Directors, which would expand from 10 members to 12 members if the county opts into the service. The DeKalb County has four voting members while Atlanta and Fulton County each get to appoint three members, he added.

But even though Clayton would have less votes than each of its peer governments, Parker said the service that is provided to the county would be whatever it wanted.

“You’d be a full member so you’d decide what service you get,” Parker said. After he finished his presentation, he referred to the disparity O’Keeffe mentioned as a “myth.”

Ashe also pledged that MARTA would be committed to making sure Clayton County residents are served.

“We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t committed to providing robust service,” Ashe said.

Stay tuned to www.news-daily.com and Friday’s edition of Clayton News Daily for additional details about Parker’s presentation and the commissioners response.